JTA — Eleven memorial candles stood on a table at the start of the public memorial service for the attack one year ago on the Tree of Life synagogue building.
Family members of the 11 people killed in the attack walked around the table holding hands as a string ensemble played in the background. They then lit the candles, wiping their eyes and hugging each other.
The Jewish community was joined at Sunday’s ceremony by members of the Christian and Muslim faith communities, as well as city and state officials. The ceremony was held under the banner of “Remember. Repair. Together.”
Cindy Snyder of the Center for victims, called the shooting “an act driven by hatred” which was “an attack on all people of the Jewish faith.”
The killed members of the three congregations that worshipped in the building were remembered in a video commemoration.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha congregation chanted the Al Molei Rachamim memorial prayer. Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light congregation recited a Mi Shaberach asking for the healing of the body and the soul. And Rabbi Doris Dayen of the Dor Hadash congregation called for all those who were on site on the day of the attack, including first responders, to rise and recite with her the Birkat Hagomel prayer, recited when someone has come through a dangerous situation.
Myers told the crowd that “God continues to revive my spirit and direct me on the right path.” That path, he said, is “to decry any and all that weaponize ‘h’ speech.” The letter h referring to hate.
He added that “The love that continues to pour in from across the world” gives him hope, which he called “a better h word.”
Perlman received an extended round of applause when he called on the federal and state governments to take action on gun control, “which they promised us” they would do. He also criticized the media for “retraumatizing” the victims of the attack and asked the news outlets to “just leave us alone so we can mourn.”
He said the decision by federal prosecutors to hold a trial even though shooter Robert Bowers has pleaded guilty to the attack, is because they want to “create a show. They want to bring in reporters and they want to traumatize us again.” Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, a decision which has been at odds with some members of the congregations affected by the attack.
Authorities charged Bowers, 47, a truck driver from Baldwin, Pennsylvania, in the massacre. Investigators say he used an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, and posted criticism of an immigrant aid society on social media before the attack, claiming the Jewish charity “likes to bring invaders that kill our people.”
Prior to the ceremony, thousands of people around the world participated in “Pause with Pittsburgh,” a virtual memorial event which included the memorial prayer for the dead. The memorial was organized by the Jewish Federations of North America. Members of the Pittsburgh community used the day prior to the memorial for volunteerism and Torah study in several venues.
“Today we remember those we lost and come together as a commonwealth to stand united as neighbors,” said a Twitter message from Governor Tom Wolf, who also attended the memorial service in Pittsburgh on Sunday evening.
Pittsburgh’s sports teams joined other organizations in honoring the victims. Steelers president Art Rooney II said Sunday that fans will be asked at Monday night’s game to stand for a moment of silence for the victims and their families. The Pittsburgh Penguins said “Hatred and discrimination have no place in Pittsburgh or anywhere else,” and the Pittsburgh Pirates echoed that sentiment, saying the memory of the victims “will always be a reminder that hatred has no place in our world.”
Though the building where the attack took place remains closed, thousands made a pilgrimage to the site over the course of Sunday, the Pitssburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report