By Akanksha Kar & Desiree D’lorio
At least 11 vigils honored the Tree of Life victims last week in Nassau and Suffolk and two more are scheduled for Nov. 1, with a recurring theme – mourners say they want armed guards at synagogues, but also tighter gun control legislation.
Grief-stricken Long Islanders have been gathering at candlelight vigils to mourn the 11 lives lost last Saturday during the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. With just six days until the Nov. 6 midterm elections, mourners say they would feel safer with armed guards at synagogues, but also want stricter controls on assault-style weapons.
“We do not have any security inside our temple,” Rabbi Stephen Dresner of Congregation Temple Israel in Long Beach said. “I would want them stationed there until the service is over just like at a ballgame.”
At the same time, many say that automatic assault-style weapons should be off limits.
“True gun control is checking people’s references, checking their mental health status, keeping a good record of who buys a gun, and keeping assault rifles out of people’s hands other than the military and police,” Sheryl Beckman of Oceanside said. “You have to vote for those people who want to control that.”
Beckman joined about 150 others on Tuesday night at an Oceanside vigil where local community and faith leaders gave speeches and lit candles honoring the victims.
But prominent Jewish scholar Deborah E. Lipstadt says the gun control issue is moot in the face of increasing anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.
“This guy critically wounded a SWAT member in full armor so do you really think a guard in front of a synagogue would have been able to stop him?” Lipstadt said about the Pittsburgh shooter. “We didn’t need the Tree of Life shooting to talk about gun control. We had Parkland, Florida and so many others – we didn’t need this to remind us about gun control. ”
Stopping hate in its tracks is a more pressing concern for Lipstadt.
“When you’re at Thanksgiving dinner this year, and your ornery old uncle or even your cool young cousin says something horrible about Jews or blacks or gays, don’t just sit there and say nothing,” Lipstadt says. “You might not change their mind but the young people around the table will take a lesson from seeing someone speak up.”
Education, rather than armed guards, is a more effective way to address the hate that can lead to violence, Robbins says. “Hate doesn’t stop at the door and it’s not going to stop with one guard or two,” she says.
The fear is that anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry will become normalized.
“We’re seeing rising anti-Semitism across the country and right here in New York,” Robbins says. “What we’re afraid of is the continued normalization of this hate – both in the physical world and online – so we have to remain vigilant.”
The Jewish community in the United States has been the target for at least a dozen violent attacks since the 1950’s. But the Anti Defamation League says the Tree of Life tragedy is the first time for this specific kind of violence – where a gunman enters a synagogue to commit a mass shooting to spread hate and terror in this particular community.
“As we’re going through our records, the last major shooting incident [involving the U.S. Jewish community] was a man who killed four family members outside their home,” Melanie Robbins, deputy director of the Anti Defamation League’s New York/New Jersey branch said, referring to a 2000 incident where a gunman shot four members of a Jewish family in Pittsburgh.
“To my knowledge, there’s never been a situation quite like [the Tree of Life shooting] before,” she said. The ADL has named it the most deadly attack on the Jewish community in the United States, she said.