U.S. Synagogues Prepare to Host Masses for Tree of Life Anniversary Shabbat Service

After Pittsburgh shooting, American Jewish Committee launched the #ShowUpforShabbat initiative as a way for the larger community to show solidarity and stand up to anti-Semitism

A memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh on October 29, 2018.
Matt Rourke,AP

NEW YORK — As the one year anniversary of the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh approaches, synagogues across the United States are preparing to host masses who will attend Shabbat services this weekend, to take a stand against anti-Semitism. 

Hours following the shooting that killed 11 Jews last year, the American Jewish Committee launched the #ShowUpforShabbat initiative as a way for the larger community to show solidarity with those in Pittsburgh. 

“By the time Shabbat was over, we had already come up with the hashtag #ShowUpforShabbat and the idea was to encourage people, Jews and non-Jews, to come to synagogue the following Friday evening and Saturday morning across the United States and around the world,” AJC’s Director of Media Relations Kenneth Bandler told Haaretz on Thursday. 

The initiative quickly spread online and within days, the hashtag had been used on social media about 250 million times. 

“It was resonating,” Bandler said. “People across the country were shocked and were trying to figure out how they could spread their solidarity and empathy.”

“On this particular weekend, this particular anniversary, it's very important to show up, and not just show up to be with other Jews in your community, but at the same time to welcome people from other faiths and other ethnic groups who are willing to join in solidarity with all of us in fighting anti-Semitism,” he added. 

In New York City alone, some 30 synagogues have engaged with the initiative. Among them, Temple Emanu-el, the largest reform congregation in the city is expecting some 1,600 people to show up this Shabbat, more than three times the usual attendance. Because the synagogue’s sanctuary is significantly large, it can accommodate the crowd. 

“The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue awakened us to the violent reality of anti-Semitism in America today,” Rabbi Davidson wrote in his address, which he plans to deliver during service. “Anti-Semitism in America isn’t new; many of us grew up with it. But never, here, has it been inflamed by such ethno-nationalist hate mongering and armed by so many guns.”

Gathering in Jewish houses of worship, celebrating Jewish life and embracing Jewish identity, Davidson believes, are an “act of defiance” and the “most potent response to anti-Semitism.”

On Sunday, which will mark the exact day of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, Jewish organizations, synagogues and some New York officials are expected to hold an event at the Central Synagogue in New York to dedicate the day as “Day of Action Against Anti-Semitism”. 

A survey published by AJC on Wednesday revealed that nearly nine out of 10 American Jews believe anti-Semitism is a problem in the United States today, with more than a third describing it as a serious one.

The poll also found that nearly one in three American Jews avoid publicly wearing, carrying, or displaying items that might identify them religiously, while one-quarter avoid places, events or situations out of concern for their safety as Jews.

The findings of the survey, Bandler told Haaretz, will be shared with all 2020 presidential candidates.

“Addressing anti-Semitism is something that all political leaders should agree on,” he said. 

Judy Maltz contributed to this report.