To Lee, it was simple: “If something were to happen to someone from the Chinese American community, I know I’d appreciate it if people who are outside of my community came to show support, so I wanted to do the same.”
There was no way for the AJC to count exactly how many people “showed up” for Shabbat on November 2 and 3, but the rough estimate of Jews and their friends and supporters who packed synagogues across the world is at least in the hundreds of thousands.
Inside the sanctuary, when Rabbi Shira Stutman turned the page in her siddur to find the Hebrew prayer of mourning, the kaddish—a page printed with the same lettering as that morning’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette—she paused.
Traditionally, she explained, only those observing a formal period of mourning for a close relative would rise for the prayer—but tonight, she wanted all those present at Sixth & I to stand in three waves. First would be those in attendance as allies to the Jewish community, perhaps those of other religions or no religion. The next group would be those belonging to the Jewish community at large, followed by, finally, those who considered Sixth & I their spiritual home. They’d all be reciting the prayer for Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger, as well as Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones, two African Americans killed by a gunman several days before the Pittsburgh shootings in the parking lot of a Kroger store in Louisville, Kentucky, in what was immediately investigated as a hate crime.
Rabbi Stutman had thought that “about 10 or 20 percent” of the evening’s attendees would be those who identified as (primarily non-Jewish) allies. But when she asked the first wave to rise for the kaddish, 40 percent of the room stood in the pews and on the balcony. The rabbi’s eyes welled up so quickly that from the audience, it almost seemed that she’d momentarily forgotten to breathe.
Jennifer Wachtel, a University of Maryland master’s student studying refugee and immigration history, sat front and center, huddled tightly with a group of friends who all waited to stand with the third wave for the mourner’s kaddish. Wachtel has attended Sixth & I frequently in recent years: A number of times, she’s come for HIAS meetings, an involvement that began for her after the 2017 Women’s March in Washington. “I was concerned about what the new president was saying about Muslim women, specifically,” Wachtel told me. “I was very concerned, because it reminded me of what had been said about Jewish women in the past … broadly, just dehumanizing them.”
She, like the Anti-Defamation League’s Jacobson, reflected on the duality of life for many American Jews. “At the same time that there’s rising anti-Semitism, there’s unprecedented acculturation, where we feel more welcome and more integrated into general American culture than we have before,” Wachtel said. “In my head I was thinking, Maybe that’s why people are so surprised. Because day-to-day life is very normal for me. But then I see swastikas and ‘Kill all Jews’ being spray-painted onto synagogues.”