1,000 attend vigil in Richmond

Ronald E. Carrington | 11/1/2018, 6 a.m.
More than 1,000 people of different faiths, races and backgrounds came together Tuesday night in a community display of unity ...

More than 1,000 people of different faiths, races and backgrounds came together Tuesday night in a community display of unity and love following the weekend tragedy in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were shot and killed by a gunman who entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire.

Religious leaders, political figures and community members in Richmond prayed, sang and mourned together at the vigil held outside the Weinstein Jewish Community Center on Monument Avenue.

Speaker after speaker at the emotional event offered hope and talked about the importance of embracing people of all backgrounds to combat the forces of hatred and to help build a community of hope.

“The shooting reminds us of the intimacy, pain and disaster of loss,” Dr. Corey D.B. Walker, dean of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, told the crowd.

He recounted an editorial published in the North Star in December 1840 by abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “We are one with you. When you suffer, we suffer. What you endure, we endure. We are indissoluble united.”

“Today, the Richmond community stands in the long wake of Douglass’ words, indissoluble united with the hope of loved ones scarred by the event in Pittsburgh. The deep wells of sorrow are never a place of solace.”

Imam Amar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia said it is “our duty to protect churches, synagogues and temples, as well as mosques, where the name of God is exalted.”

“As a society, we have to be committed and have a covenant of mutual respect and mutual protection,” he said. “If we save one person, we are saving the whole world. If we lose the life of one human being, the whole world is lost.”

Ellen Renee Adams, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, read the names of the 11 worshippers who were killed.

Rick Nelson, chief executive officer of the Weinstein JCC, talked about how the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh became a base of operations and a crisis center after last Saturday’s tragedy.

“Let us join together as Jews and Americans from all backgrounds,” said Rabbi Ahuva Zaches of Congregation Or Ami.

Security was tight at the outdoor event, with Henrico Police patrolling the perimeter of the parking lot where the vigil was held. Police also has a bomb-sniffing dog at the location.

The crowd was filled with diverse faces, including the Rev. Jeanette L. Brown, associate minister at Westwood Baptist Church.

Rev. Brown said she lives behind the center and has been a member since her youth. She said she wanted to attend the vigil to show her support for and solidarity with the Jewish community both in Richmond and Pittsburgh.

“It is important that we stand together,” she said. “As God’s people, we stand up and lock arms for what is right in the midst of evil as America’s leadership does otherwise.”

Also attending the vigil were Virginia’s First Lady Pam Northam, wife of Gov. Ralph S. Northam, and state Attorney General Mark Herring.

Ms. Northam extended sympathy on behalf of the governor and her family and spoke of tolerance and an America built on inclusivity.

“Here in Virginia, we welcome people of every faith, every nationality, every race and every orientation,” she said.

She urged people to stand united and to turn grief into advocacy.

“Speak out. Be informed. Get involved — to fight bigotry and intolerance, to preserve the great country we all know and love.”

Mr. Herring thanked the attendees for supporting “the global Jewish community and one another.”

“We must not and cannot give into cynicism. And as people of faith, we have to continue to carry a message of hope and healing, love and unity,” he said.

The vigil ended with a Jewish prayer for peace that was song and the large crowd held up candles and lights.

Savion Washington, an African-American senior at Benedictine College Preparatory School and member of Chabad of Virginia synagogue, stood with his mother. He said students at his school weren’t talking about what happened in Pittsburgh, but he felt the need to see if the Richmond community was united in the wake of the massacre.

“The community has a strong foundation. A lot of people care,” he said after the vigil. “That makes me happy. I have a lot of hope.”