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Las Vegas service draws 1,700 to honor Pittsburgh shooting victims

Updated November 1, 2018 - 9:52 pm

It was standing room only when the service started at the Temple Beth Sholom on Thursday night, the singing and clapping echoing through the synagogue.

“I do not want to talk about hate or violence or pain,” Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid told the crowd. “I’m here simply to ask people of many faiths to come forward to light a candle of hope and share the name and stories of those who died.”

People came together at the Summerlin synagogue to honor the 11 people shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The service, organized by Jewish Nevada, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Nevada Board of Rabbis, included rabbis and Jewish congregations across the Las Vegas Valley, as well as leaders and members of other religions.

Jolie Brislin, Nevada regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said she had expected that many people would attend the service.

“I knew that if we had a vigil, the entire community would come together, and we did,” said Brislin, who estimated the crowd at 1,700 people. “It was one community standing up against hate.”

Religious and community leaders read the names of the those killed in Pittsburgh, as well as short descriptions of each life. A candle was lit for each person, from the grandmother everyone expected to reach 100 years old to the couple married at the Tree of Life more than 60 years ago.

During the ending song and prayer, everyone linked arms and swayed as they sang together. Brislin said the sight filled her with hope.

“We had Jews and Muslims and Catholics and Sikhs holding hands with one another, and it was just absolutely beautiful,” she said.

Todd Polikoff, the president and CEO of Jewish Nevada, urged the crowd to stand against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate after the Pittsburgh shooting.

“Let us not forget that the rising tide of division and hatred in this country includes the constant attacks on African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and others,” he said. “There is no path forward except together.”

Polikoff said the attack at the Tree of Life was an attack on America’s right to worship freely.

“The events of last Saturday was the largest slaughter of Jews in American history,” he said. “These were Americans, congregating in a house of worship participating in their First Amendment right to exercise their religious beliefs.”

Bishop George Thomas of the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas said the ceremony, meant to celebrate the lives of those who died, was beautiful, and noted that many members of his clergy attended.

“The wounds inflicted on the Jewish community are our wounds,” Thomas said.

Akselrad also said he wasn’t surprised that so many people from all religions attended the service.

“Everyone realizes that an attack on one religion is an attack on all,” he said. “They were just simple people going there to pray to God.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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