Photo by Dean Moses
The Jackson Heights community held a candlelight vigil following the mass shooting in Pittsburgh.
By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech

They prayed, lit candles and held hands outside the Jackson Heights Post Office Sunday night, as hundreds of residents honored the victims of Saturday morning’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Rows of shabbat candles illuminated the faces of vigil-goers, whose saddened eyes looked up at organizers, community members and City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) as they shared words at the microphone set up on the steps of the post office. Some called for action, others called for unity and all asked their neighbors not to forget.

“Small incidents like this led up to the murder of millions of Jewish people,” said Dromm said. “It all didn’t happen over night.”

On Oct. 27, Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old Pennsylvania man allegedly stormed into the synagogue and opened fire during a bris for an adopted child of a same-sex couple. A total of 11 people were killed, many of whom were elderly.

According to CNN, Bowers made anti-Semitic remarks during the shooting and had targeted Jews on social media.

Sadly, the vigil’s organizers and attendees were not surprised that the attack had happened given the number of recent violent acts of hate, such as the murder of two black individuals by a white supremacist outside of Louisville, Ky., and bomb scares in New York.

But Jackson Heights residents at the Oct. 28 vigil needed to remind themselves and each other that violence does not have to be a part of everyday life.

“Being here tonight is the first step of healing ourselves and the world,” said Zoe Levine, an immigration attorney for The Bronx Defenders.

After words were shared, attendees old and young, Jewish and non-Jewish sang Jewish songs of mourning. One was a prayer for healing (Mi Shebeirach), another a prayer for the departed (El Malei Rachamim) and the final prayer was to praise, thanksgiving and peace (Kaddish).

“The only thing you can do,” said Andres Aguirre, a 17-year-old Jackson Heights resident. “Keep going, keep talking to people and keep the memories of these people alive.”

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