GLENDALE — About 1,800 people filled the room, with hundreds standing at the edges for the lack of empty seats. There were Reform and Orthodox, young and old.
They came to be with their michpacha — family.
Jews of all stripes came out Monday night in droves, to hug, to be in the same room together and to speak of an unspeakable act. Two days after a gunman massacred 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, much of Jewish Milwaukee, and friends, filed into Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid to be together at the most trying of times.
“When something like that happens, it happens to all of us,” said Arlene Shelley of Brookfield, waiting for the start of the program. “It’s our family. This is our family.”
Another Jewish attendee agreed. “Michpacha,” said Melissa Spanjar, a member of CBINT. “We’re all family …. There are not that many Jews in the world.”
The event covered ground from anger and resilience to hope and love. Cantors sang woefully. Attendees sang the Israeli and American national anthems spiritedly.
“We find ourselves in a dark place grieving together,” said Congregation Shalom’s Rabbi Rachel Marks, president of the Wisconsin Council of Rabbis. “We grieve for the loss of life and we grieve for another low point in our country’s narrative.”
In darkness, we must be strong, she said.
Rabbi Joel Alter of CBINT turned fiery, bellowing that God did not give human beings armor and didn’t plan for this. But he added, “An attack from behind is familiar to us. We know this story.”
Moshe Katz, board chair of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, which organized the event, said: “Today we mourn. Today we do not look for blame and today we do not point fingers other than at the murderer.”
Hannah Rosenthal, Federation’s President and CEO, encouraged activism.
“Tragically the 11 praying souls were struck down by a hate that has targeted our people in so many places so many times and how has it come to our beloved United States?” she asked rhetorically. “May all eleven’s memory be for a blessing.”
Teens Sophie Packman and Jason Scheuer, of BBYO Wisconsin Region, read the names of those gunned down in Pittsburg simply because they were Jews.
The Rev. David Simmons of St. Matthias Episcopal Church quoted a famous letter from George Washington to a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island: “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Simmons offered his support in that spirit, representing the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.
Visiting clergy and rabbis were invited to the bimah to show support. Dozens of clergy, many of them not Jewish, filled the broad CBINT bimah to capacity.
“Our heart hurts because we have to explain to our children that members of our family were gunned down in a shul on shabbat,” said Rabbi Wes Kalmar of Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah.
“We are a diverse people, We have different religious approaches; we have different political approaches,” he added. “But what is crucial is that in times of trouble we all come to the table.”
“We are family. A family comes together in tough times.”