Richmond congregations shine light, shown love after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Hundreds of people are expected at a vigil Tuesday night in Richmond to mourn the 11 lives lost during a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Vigils and services were held across metro-Richmond in the days since a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday.

"A Night of Unity: Stand Together with Pittsburgh" is an interfaith gathering organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and other faith groups. The event will take place Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Weinstein Jewish Community Center located at 5403 Monument Avenue.

More than 100 students and school leaders at VCU gathered at "the compass" on campus to remember the victims in Pittsburgh. Rabbi Matisyahu Friedman told the crowd the only way to push back against darkness is to shine a light to it.  Rabbi Friedman said the best way to shine that light is through acts of kindness and love.

"We are driven to jump up and make changes through the small acts of goodness and kindness that we do in our own personal lives," Friedman said. "You can't expel darkness with a stick or a broom, the one and only way to expel darkness is by adding light."

During Shabbat service at Richmond's Temple Beth-El on Saturday, Rabbi Michael Knopf got word of the shooting in Pittsburgh.

"We just sort of processed it in real time, tried to hold it for a moment, and we sang a prayer for peace and a prayer for healing," Rabbi Knopf recalled.  "You have this responsibility as a leader of an organization, a religious leader, and you have responsibility to the people you are serving, but it’s also news that impacts you on a personal level"

Rabbi Knopf said his congregation has been overwhelmed by the showing of love and support from people of all faiths since Saturday.

"We even had people come and leave flowers and notes on our doorstep here. . . Jews have been at risk and a target for most of our history, but at least here, we have a lot of friends and a lot of people who have our backs, and that’s really meaningful," Rabbi Knopf said.

The Anti-Defamation League reports that anti-Semitic acts have surged since 2017.  Rabbi Knopf said the trend is concerning, but added the love the Jewish community in Richmond has received since the Pittsburgh shooting shows something else about the world.

"I still think that it is the last gasps of a dying ideology, and we’re increasing the light... There’s so much more light out there than darkness," Rabbi Knopf said.

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