Devastated community starts to emerge from the darkness with healing service

COMFORT: Rabbi Diamond gives a worshipper a comforting hug after leading a Shabbat service outside the Tree of Life synagogue

PARENTS clutched their children, couples leaned on each other and bystanders wept as 100 people gathered in the rain outside the desecrated Tree of Life synagogue for what a former rabbi called a “healing service”.

A week after the worst attack targeting Jews in America’s history, Rabbi Chuck Diamond led prayers, songs and poetry and reminisced about some of the worshippers killed.

It happened as Show Up For Shabbat services honouring the 11 dead and six wounded were held at synagogues across America.

“I almost expected Cecil to greet me this morning,” the rabbi said of Cecil Rosenthal, 59, who was killed along with his brother, David, 54, in the synagogue in Pittsburgh’s heavily-Jewish Squirrel Hill district.

Rabbi Diamond called the victims “angels given to us, full of love and life”.

Since the massacre, people have told him of weddings, barmitzvahs and other ceremonies they’ve held at the synagogue.

“This is a place that has stood for joy, but now it is for ever stained,” he said. “But the shooting cannot overshadow that this building is — and will be into the future — a place of joy.”

Rabbi Diamond added that he took great comfort in seeing people of all faiths come together since the shooting.

Andrew Allison, who attended Saturday’s service, said: “It’s important to take care of your community when something like this happens.”

Before going to the outdoor service, Steve Irwin, 59, and a friend stopped by a Squirrel Hill coffee shop.

“When we went to pay, we were told all the coffee was paid for by the Sandy Hook community,” he said, referring to Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Irwin added as he stood outside Tree of Life. “It shows how incumbent it is upon us to pass it forward to the next community this happens to. We hope it never happens, but we know it will.”

Meanwhile, the pews were packed at Central Synagogue in New York City, where Jews and non-Jews alike gathered for a special Show Up for Shabbat service.

“I was touched by the calling of the Jewish community to welcome non-Jews into their synagogues today,” said Steven Kent, an Episcopalian. “It was a wonderful feeling.”

The Rev Lee Clark, a retired Presbyterian pastor who took part in Saturday’s service outside the Tree of Life synagogue, said: “This is not a Jewish problem, although Jews were targeted. This is a human problem. The only way to confront hate is to face it with love.”

About a half-mile away at Congregation Beth Shalom, worshippers — including several members of Tree of Life — gathered for Shabbat services.

“The shooting rocked me to the core,” said Scott Priester, 48, a Lutheran, who was there — at his first-ever Shabbat service.

And Gary Friedman, 65, called the massacre “a blow, a stab to the heart”, but added: “We’ll get over it. We always do. What other choice do we have?”

The suspect, Robert Bowers, 46, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that could result in a death sentence. He faces 44 charges of murder, hate crimes and obstructing the practise of religion.

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