Bronx Vigil Honors Pittsburgh Shooting Victims

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. organized a prayer vigil Tuesday. (The Ink/Ali Zaslav)

Three days after the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh synagogue attack, dozens of people of different religions, races and ages gathered on their lunch break on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse to honor the shooting victims and send a message of unity.

“We’re here to pray, but we’re also here to speak in a loud voice to say no to hate,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. told the crowd. “We know that words mean a lot. We know that words can hurt. Yes, rhetoric can kill. But we also know that silence during the time of hate is also just as deadly. That’s why we’re here today, to say we’re not going to remain silent.”

The hour-long prayer vigil was organized by Diaz and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

“The one thing that will not be tolerated in this borough is hate,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark. “I, along with so many other members of my staff and this county, pray for the Jewish people of Pittsburgh and everywhere in this nation as they grieve the 11 victims and six survivors of the atrocity.”

The mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue left 11 dead and six wounded and is believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history, according to the American Defamation League.

Sandi Zelniker, a social worker at the Bronx Jewish Community Council, said the shooting made her think of her late grandparents, both Holocaust survivors. “I’m thankful that they’re not alive to see this,” she said. “I think it would be horrific and bring back a lot of terrible memories.”

Retired Bronx Metro-North Railroad yard worker John Kelly said he continues to pray for the victims.

“I’m a Christian, I go to church and I believe in Jesus and God,” Kelly said. “The poor Jewish people were praying; they were worshiping their God. It was beautiful. And to die like that is heartbreaking. I cried. I feel sorry for the two brothers, the poor brothers. The news said they never missed a service.” Kelly is referring to Cecil and David Rosenthal, two brothers who were killed in the shooting on Saturday. According to local news sources, the Rosenthal brothers were in their 50s and attended services at Tree of Life Synagogue every week.

About 10 politicians, court officials and faith leaders stood in solidarity and expressed their support for the Jewish community.

“Our response is a collective response to the outrage this past Saturday and the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” said Michael Miller, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

An attorney on his lunch break joined the vigil on Bronx County Courthouse steps. “I’ve represented Muslims, I’ve represented Jews,” said Evan Ocean. “It tears me up inside to see this going on in the world right now. There has to be unity, something has to be done in this country to change the tide.”

Chabad South Bronx Orthodox Rabbi Choli Mishulovin stood at the vigil with his wife and baby. Mishulovin voiced his concern about growing anti-Semitism in the U.S. but felt encouraged by today’s rally.

“Having all different groups here and all different faiths,” he said. “It’s very encouraging.”

New York’s Israeli Deputy Consul General Israel Nitzan told the crowd: “It’s that the real way to fight anti-Semitism, the real way to fight racism, the real way to fight violence and hatred is by such a gathering in which diverse communities stand up, stand by each other and support each other.”

After a final prayer, the event concluded with remarks from Rep. Eliot Engel. “With the next Congress after the election next week,” Engel said, “I hope, that we can finally have sensible gun control legislation.”