How SC synagogues, Jewish centers are responding to synagogue shooting that killed 11

People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of Saturday’s deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of Saturday’s deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. AP Photo

In the hours after a gunman killed 11 people and injured several others at a Pittsburgh synagogue, South Carolina synagogues and Jewish centers announced plans for stepped up police patrols and prayer vigils, and called for acts of kindness in response to the attack.

The Saturday mass shooting that unfolded at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh killed 11 people and injured six others, including four police officers, the Associated Press reported. The accused gunman reportedly posted anti-Semitic slurs and rhetoric on social media before the attack.

Columbia’s Tree of Life Congregation on North Trenholm Road shares a name with the synagogue where the deadly attack happened. And on Saturday night, they shared their heartache and concern.

“We write to you now at the conclusion of this difficult Shabbat because of our deep concern for our safety and security, especially when worshiping, attending programs, engaging in everyday business, and dropping off and picking up children in our Religious School,” congregation officials said in a Facebook post. “Please know that we are reviewing all our present security precautions and enhancing them as needed. Our programs and services will continue, as we will not permit anyone to deter us from proudly, and publicly, living Jewishly.”

Congregation officials said the doors in and out of the building will be locked Sunday morning. The religious school entrance will be unlocked only as teachers, students and parents enter and leave, and parents were asked to accompany their children in and out of the school.

Additionally, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department is increasing patrols around Tree of Life and other synagogues in the community, according to the post.

Less than 2 miles down North Trenholm Road, at Beth Shalom Synagogue, Rabbis Jonathan Case, Eric Mollo and Hesh Epstein announced in a blog post that the congregation will gather at 6 p.m. Tuesday “to mourn our dead, and gain comfort and solace with one another.”

“We gather in prayer. We will be undeterred, remaining steadfast in our faith, true to our God, and the unity of the Jewish people,” the post reads. “Echoing the words of Deuteronomy we ‘choose life.’ We also gather because we see the insidious warning signs and will not be silent. There is comfort when we stand together and affirm our solidarity. We therefore invite the entire community to join with us knowing that the force of goodness will always outweigh evil.”

At Chabad of South Carolina on Decker Boulevard, in a Facebook post using the hashtag #mitzvot4squirrelhill, congregants were asked to commit an act of kindness and share it on social media.

“The Mishnah says action is the most important,” the post reads. “We will respond to (Saturday’s) senseless atrocities with senseless acts of good and kindness. We will nurture the Tree of Life. When one Jew hurts, the entire Jewish People hurt along with them.”

In Charleston, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim leaders said Saturday’s shooting affects all Jews because “it confirms our worst fears every time we gather for worship or study in our own synagogue.” In addition to having security officers at the synagogue, officials said the synagogue has an ongoing relationship with the Charleston Police Department and is part of a larger security council involving all Jewish congregations in the Charleston area.

“We know this is a scary time in our country. Hateful rhetoric, incidents, and violence are evident in ways many of us have never seen before,” the post reads. “We are committed to making sure KKBE remains, first and foremost, a safe refuge. And we know it must also be a place in which we can reflect openly and constructively about what is happening in the world, and how each of us can work to make the world a better place.”

At Charleston’s Synagogue Emanu-El, leaders said they considered canceling plans to meet as a congregation after minyan Sunday morning.

“We decided instead to not allow the acts of a cowardly, hate-filled individual to prevent us from continuing our work as a vibrant and holy community,” a post on the Synagogue’s Facebook page reads. “... Tonight, we weep. Tomorrow, we will gather and move forward, with caution, sensitivity, and determination. We are ‘Yachad,’ together. We always will be here for each other and for the entire Jewish community.”