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Diplomats Attend #ShowUpForShabbat Service for Synagogue Shooting Victims

By David Jahng

In the wake of the Oct. 27 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) launched a #ShowUpForShabbat initiative to support the victims and speak out against hate in the United States and around the world.

Robert Bowers, 46, has been charged in the attack that left the historic Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill reeling. Federal prosecutors accuse Bowers, who had posted anti-Semitic statements on social media, of killing 11 people and injuring seven in what is considered one of deadliest rampages against a Jewish community in U.S. history.

Among the dead who came to worship during the synagogue's morning services were an 88-year-old accountant; a popular primary care physician; a 97-year-old congregant regular who was described as "spry, vibrant and full of life"; as well as a couple who had wed at the synagogue 60 years earlier.

The AJC initiative began a day after the attack, with the group calling on all Jewish communities, elected officials, religious and civic leaders, and diplomats to go to synagogues for Shabbat (Friday night and Saturday morning) on Nov. 2 to 3.

"The rapid, continually growing response to #ShowUpForShabbat is heartwarming," said AJC CEO David Harris. "It restores hope in the human capacity to unite in confronting anti-Semitism and attacks on houses of worship."

Harris said #ShowUpForShabbat has taken off like wildfire, reaching millions through social media. He said leaders of Christian, Muslim, Sikh and other faith communities have all endorsed the initiative.


Flowers and memorials pay tribute to the 11 people killed inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 by a lone gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs. White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

On Friday, Nov. 2, over 40 diplomats attended an evening religious service at Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. as part of the initiative. Ambassadors from Albania, Austria, Ethiopia, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Paraguay and Portugal were in attendance. Diplomats from the U.S. and around the world also arrived to express their solidarity

Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt opened the event, giving gratitude to the AJC for creating the initiative. She asked how many in attendance represented foreign governments, and almost a quarter of the hands in the room went up.

"It was a very powerful moment," said Benjamin Rogers, assistant director of AJC. "It was a heartening experience to feel such strong support from the diplomatic community."

Portuguese Ambassador Domingos Fezas Vital was among the diplomats at the service to commemorate the victims.

"It was a very moving moment that underlined our strong determination in repudiating the threats to our common humanity," Fezas Vital told the Diplomatic Pouch.

Diplomats said they were shaken when they considered that the shooting occurred at a synagogue much like the one they were present at.

Austrian Ambassador Wolfgang Waldner said he appreciated the initiative, which offered diplomats a dignified, hopeful occasion to show their solidarity with the Jewish community after the "horrendous terrorist attack."


Over 40 diplomats attended the #ShowUpForShabbat initiative service held at Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. Photo: Embassy of Austria

"I had actually expected a solemn, somber mourning ceremony," said Waldner. "Instead we were treated to an hour of remembrance through joyful Biblical songs."

Waldner said those songs highlighted the sense of resilience, perseverance and community of the Jewish people.

Outside of the event, AJC Washington Director Alan Ronkin said anti-Semitism has risen sharply over the past two years, both in the U.S. and around the world. Citing the FBI's 2016 Uniform Crime report, he said that of the 7,600 victims of hate crimes in 2016, nearly 55 percent of religion-based hate crimes targeted Jews.

"Far-right, far-left and jihadi extremists have committed violent acts against Jews and our institutions," Ronkin said. "Our community will stand up to this hatred and, together with our allies and friends, reject bigotry in all of its forms."

Representatives of AJC's 22 offices across the United States reached out to communal partners and local government officials to ask them to participate in the #ShowUpForShabbat campaign. Simultaneously, AJC's 11 international offices are working with partners in over 35 Jewish communities around the globe to launch similar initiatives locally.

To lean more about AJC and the #ShowUpForShabbat campaign, visit https://www.ajc.org/showupforshabbat or search the #ShowUpForShabbat hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.

David Jahng is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.




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