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In Aftermath Of Pittsburgh Massacre, Cleveland Jewish Community Finds Comfort In Faith - And Friends

Mourners gather at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood to remember those killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. [Photo: Nick Castele/ideastream]

In Pittsburgh, in Cleveland - and around the country, the mourning and the remembrance continue today. As do funerals for more of the 11 victims killed by a gunman in a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning. Those who knew the victims -- and even those of us who, from hours away, feel the impact of those lives being taken; continue to come together, through vigils, and through memorials.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen of Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood has been counseling adults and children in his congregation and throughout the community since the attack. He joined Rick Jackson to share his perspective and offer his thoughts on the days ahead.

On what he's hearing from members of his congregation in the days since the shooting:

"The congregation is very eager to be together. The congregation is very eager to find opportunities to process the terrible events that took place in Pittsburgh, that terrible attack that took place. The congregation is very eager to understand how it is that we speak to our children, how we speak to our teenagers, how it is that we speak to those who are now off in college on various campuses around the country. About what took place. About this kind of attack. About what really is the worst anti-Semitic attack on American soil throughout American history. Everybody is trying to process this. Everybody is trying to come together. There is a real need for comfort. There is a great need for us to reassert and reaffirm our faith and our commitment to each other.

On the outpouring of support during Monday's vigil:

"Here in Cleveland, we had dozens of members of the clergy from a number of interfaith groups. We had Muslim members of the clergy, various Christian denominations were represented throughout the room. We had overflow crowds of hundreds in other settings, they had to be bussed to other settings. The Temple-Tifereth Israel was one of those settings where we had 800 people as an overflow crowd to the central crowd at the JCC. So the response has been tremendous. As we look for silver linings, this certainly has been one."

Cleveland's Connection to the Pittsburgh Jewish Community:

"The connections are deep. In many ways, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are similar cities. They were settled by Jews at similar times. Historically, the communities have evolved in a similar way. We also have concentrations of Jewish populations of Pittsburgh and in Cleveland that render the cities similar. It's touched really close to home."

On the larger pattern of hate:

"This is not new to us. Anti-Semitism is an old form of hatred, and there has been anti-Semitism in this country historically at different times. We are seeing an increase in anti-Semitism now - 2016, 2017, we have seen increases in anti-Semitic attacks in the context of hate crimes that are perpetrated in this country. We did not see this coming. No one, I think, saw this coming. But we have been shocked to see the bombings and the shootings in African American churches. The execution of two African Americans in Louisville, Kentucky just this past week. What we're seeing is an increase in hate crimes in general -- and of anti-Semitic attacks as well.

Security in places of worship:

"Unfortunately we have to think about security. We have to concern ourselves with these matters. In the case of those who are determined to attack our places of worship, we rely on law enforcement authorities. We rely on our partners. We have been blessed with extraordinary partnership from the law enforcement authorities in Beachwood, from our Jewish community partners, and from the support of our many partners in the non-Jewish community. As religious institutions, we want to open. We want to be welcoming. We want to serve people. We want to be safe and secure places. And certainly police cars and armed guards are reminders of lack of safety, and they do generate a certain degree of discomfort. And so what we have to do is to achieve a balance to remain true to our missions. To remain true to who we are, and at the same time to ensure that people are as safe as they can be.

stephanie.jarvis@ideastream.org | 216-916-6340