GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A large crowd gathered in downtown Grand Rapids Thursday evening to honor the victims of a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Heedless of the chilly weather, hundreds of people at Calder Plaza lit candles and sang. Speakers of different faiths and backgrounds, including Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky, shared a message of unity and urged an end to hatred.
“That man killed Jews, but he did not kill our spirit,” one said.
Eleven people were killed and six more injured when a man opened fire during a Saturday morning worship service at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“It’s been particularly painful for members of this Jewish community because we feel as if we are one big family, and when they were killed, we feel as if we have lost part of our own community,” Rabbi Michael Shadick of Temple Emmanuel in Grand Rapids said.
Members of Grand Rapids’ Jewish community said it’s like family.
“It’s a small Jewish community. It’s always been pretty tight,” Paula Miller said.
She’s originally from Chicago, a city with a large Jewish population, but has grown closer to the Grand Rapids community over the years, especially since the tragedy Saturday. Her husband Ed Miller is calling for change.
“We as America have got to come together, and have to show peace and respect,” he said. “This kind of violence and hatred has got to stop.”
The vigil, called “Pittsburgh: A Prayer Gathering for Shalom,” was sponsored by Temple Emanuel, Congregation Ahavas Israel, the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids and Chabad House of West Michigan.
“Get to know individuals who might be different than you are, that might have different perspectives on things. In the end, we’re all made in God’s image. … We say ‘b’tzelen Elohim,’ and as we look at each other, we see the face of God,” Rabbi Shadick said.
Shooting suspect Robert Bowers, who had expressed anti-Semitic views online before the attack, pleaded not guilty Thursday to 44 criminal counts, including murder and hate crimes. Federal prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty.