Queens residents of all faiths and backgrounds stood in solidarity outside Borough Hall in Kew Gardens Monday night to remember and honor the victims of the recent mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Borough President Melinda Katz was joined by elected officials, community leaders and advocates at the event, dubbed “Queens Against Hate,” a candlelight prayer vigil on the steps of Borough Hall at 120-55 Queens Blvd.
“We’re here today, all of this diversity, all of these religions, all of the folks behind me and in front of me to say everyone who wants to promote fear in this word, America will not have it. Queens will not have it. We stand together,” said Katz, among a loud applause.
On Saturday morning, Oct. 27, a Pennsylvania man, Robert Bowers, 46, stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue shouting anti-Semitic slurs and shot 11 people, many of whom were elderly. It’s believed to be the deadliest attacks against Jewish Americans in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Katz also noted the shootings of two victims in a Jeffersontown, Kentucky, supermarket on Oct. 24. After an alleged failed attempt to enter a predominantly black church, Gregory Bush, 51, went to Kroger supermarket and opened fire, CNN reported; the incident is now being investigated as a hate crime.
“I believe very strongly that words matter. Whether you’re a faith leader, community, leader, a parent, a grandparent, a teacher or political figure, words matter,” said Rabbi Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Miller added, “If there’s anything that we should be doing is building bridges from the Jewish community to every other community … bridges of understanding and most importantly, bridges of words… and indeed maybe I would substitute the word love for the word shalom, the word peace. That indeed is where all of our bridges should be heading.”
Imam Safraz Bacchus, from the Masjid Al-Abidin in Richmond Hill, said the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh is an “attack on all mosques, churches, mandirs and other religious institutions.”
“At the end I must say, that love will triumph always over hate,” Bacchus said.
Queens residents expressed the need for unity during a difficult time in the nation, given the political atmosphere.
Baljinder Singh, of the Sikh Cultural Society of Richmond Hill, was joined by members of the World Sikh Parliament, Sikh Coordination Committee East Coast (SCCEC), and The Sikh Center of New York.
“This is a hate crime, and our condolences to the families whose people got killed in this hate crime,” said Singh. “This is the same thing that happened to the Sikh community in August 2012, when a gunman entered the gurdwara in Wisconsin during prayers and opened fire. “We feel the pain that the Jewish community is feeling today. We stand with the Jewish community.”
Judy Katz of Bayside, who attends the Temple Gates of Prayer Synagogue of Flushing, said it’s important for everyone to “stand up and show up.”
“My parents were survivors of the Holocaust,” Katz said. “They were lucky to survive and come to America. I read enough about things, and it’s absolutely frightening. It’s not just the Jewish community, but everyone needs to stand up.”
As the candles were lit, Katz and local elected officials each read the names of the victims, and concluded with a song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.
Jerry Ball of Forest Hills reiterated that a leader’s words does matter when it affects the citizenry, resulting in violent acts of hatred.
“Queens is the ‘World’s Borough,’” he said. “The diversity, the acceptance, the love that everybody feels for each other, the culture, the connections here are what make the world a wonderful place. If everyone can live like we do in Queens, the world will be so much happier.”
On Sunday evening, Oct. 28, the Jackson Heights community also honored the victims with prayers, songs and a candlelight vigil with Councilman Daniel Dromm.