As the nation reels following a deadly anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend, Kitsap County’s largest temple – Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island – has received an outpouring of support from Jewish and non-Jewish community members alike.
Synagogue administrator Darla Buhler said flowers were left at the front door of the Reform congregation on Miller Road, with notes from neighbors such as the Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church.
“Dear friends,” the note from the more than 100-year-old church reads. “Our hearts are breaking at the news of those beloved people murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.”
Signed, “Your friends at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church.”
Another note included a bouquet of white roses, left by a couple who lives near the synagogue.
“In these times of divisiveness and hatred, bigotry and prejudice,” it reads, “please know that we love your place in our community.”
The attack Saturday morning during Shabbat services at the historic Pittsburgh synagogue was the most deadly against Jews in the nation’s history, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Police say 46-year-old Robert Bowers uttered anti-Semitic remarks while killing 11 people and injuring six with a semi-automatic rifle and handguns.
Aaron Levine, president of Kol Shalom — whose name translates to “the voice of peace” — said that congregants have expressed deep sadness and shock at the violent attack. It’s also brought to mind the dark history of anti-Semitism.
“The people in the Jewish community are aware that this is not something new,” he said. “But they are shocked because of the violence of the act and the fact that this is still happening.”
He said a number of Kol Shalom congregants have ties to the Tree of Life synagogue, an institution in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
“There aren’t that many Jews in the world,” he said. “So the connections are short.”
Levine promised that services would continue this Saturday as normal after Rabbi Paul Strasko returns from a trip abroad. Special attention would most likely be paid, he said, to the segments of the service dealing with mourning.
“It will be a Shabbat service like any other because that doesn’t change,” he said. “Shabbat is the day when one stops and seeks that oneness, in its highest form.”
Levine said the synagogue has been in contact with the Bainbridge Island Police Department in recent months to discuss security, but it has chosen not to employ armed guards.
“It’s been our tradition at the synagogue to not have an armed presence at our place of worship,” he said.
“We have an island of people that share the same values of freedom, liberty, justice, tolerance, all those kinds of things,” he added. “If you start to react with fear, you create more of the same.”