Vanessa Ressler was taken aback Sunday when her 8-year-old daughter Micah asked her a very difficult question — “Mommy, could that happen here?”
The question came after Ressler told her two daughters — Micah and her 10-year-old Orli — about the mass shooting Saturday at the Pittsburgh temple Saturday where 11 people were killed and six people were injured.
“Temple has always been a very safe place for them,” said Ressler, who directs the child’s choir at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach. “It’s a crazy world we are living in.”
The Resslers were among several dozen people who gathered at a hastily planned service at Temple Beth Sholom to pray, mourn, cry and comfort each other. Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation is considered the deadliest attack on the community in the United States. Congregants were gathered Shabbat morning to pray and celebrate a bris, which is a ceremonial service to mark a boy’s birth.
“I felt there was an immediate need for solidarity and comfort, just be together and pray together,” said Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz, one of several Rabbis across South Florida to hold a service Sunday. “This time it was us, but we can’t tolerate hate in our country here, or anywhere.”
Additional services are being planned in the coming days including a Community-Wide Solidarity Vigil from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach.
The Temple Sholom family filled the sanctuary to take comfort in each other.
Among those there: Kathy and her husband Larry Hurwitz. For them the shooting hit especially hard — they lived in Pittsburgh until 2013 and knew five of the victims.
“If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us,” Kathy Hurwitz said clutching a tissue. She said her Miami Beach family has been her support system.
“It’s natural for us to gravitate to the synagogue so we could be together and deal with the tragedy as a family,” said Judith Greene, who came with her wife Lisa Sanders, 14-year-old twins Julian and Sophia Greene, her mother-in-law and close friends.
During the service, Ressler had seven children’s choir members sing a song they first performed during the Jewish High Holidays about loving each other called V’ahavta L’ Rayacha Kamocha (Love Your Neighbor As You Love Yourself.)
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself with all your soul and all your might,” the children sang.
Grace Lendenauer, 10, said the song is about building a stronger community by coming together. Her father, Alex Lindenauer said talking to his children about the Pittsburgh tragedy was “difficult but necessary.”
“You have to talk to them in a way they understand,” he said. “We just try to explain that there is evil in the world but there is more love than evil.”
Congregants recited Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, after Pomerantz read the names of each of the 11 victims. They joined arms to sing the Jewish prayer for peace Oseh Shalom.
Orli said everyone can learn something from Sunday’s service: “If everyone liked each other the world would be a better place.”