The day that the American Jewish community experienced the most deadly anti-Semitic hate crime directed at it in the history of the United States was also Shabbat, the weekly Jewish day of rest. So when Shabbat ended at sundown in the densely Jewish town of Squirrel Hill, where a gunman killed 11 Jews at prayer, the community and its friends gathered in its central square to mark the end of the day in the most traditional Jewish way.
They celebrated “Havdalah,” or separation, the ceremony that divides the holiness of the Sabbath from the rest of the week’s ordinary days, in a service that was live-streamed on YouTube.
Havdalah “marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of regular time,” the woman leading the service explained to the crowd after the Pittsburgh shooting. “We technically begin to move into regular time, but there will be nothing regular about it.”
She began to sing, one of the nameless melodies called “niggunim,” which anyone can join, and then moved into the service’s three prayers — over wine, spice, and light.
“Blessed art thou, O lord our God, king of the universe, the creator of light, which shines,” she sang in Hebrew, and then closed with the weekly plea for everlasting peace. “Elijah the prophet, Elijah the redeemer, quickly in our time may he come to us, with the Messiah, son of David.”
The candle was quenched in a cup of wine, and the thoughts of leader and assembled turned toward the future.
“We ask and invite and we hope and we pray that you will hold that light and take it with you,” the leader said. “As close together as we are now, and then we separate … take that light and shine it, in every dark corner.”
The crowd sang together again, and then began to chant.
“Vote! Vote! Vote!”
This story "Squirrel Hill Gathers To Mourn As Shabbat Ends" was written by Helen Chernikoff.
Helen Chernikoff is the Forward’s News Editor. She came to the Forward from The Jewish Week, where she served as the first web director and created both a blog dedicated to disability issues and a food and wine website. Before that, she covered the housing, lodging and logistics industries for Reuters, where she could sit at her desk and watch her stories move the stock market. Helen has a Master’s of Public Administration from Columbia University and a BA in History and French from Amherst College. She is also a rabbinical school dropout. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @thesimplechild.