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“A basic trust in America has been violated”: Denver turns out in force to share in the pain of Pittsburgh and the Jewish community

Thousands packed into Temple Emanuel in Denver for a vigil Sunday night that was attended by a who’s who of politicians and faith leaders

Mourners pack into Temple Emanuel in Denver on Sunday night, Oct. 28, 2018, for a vigil dedicated to the victims of Saturday morning's mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Denver came out in force Sunday night, joining cities across the nation in sharing in the pain and sadness of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. Thousands of people packed into Temple Emanuel for a tearful, uniting vigil. 

“This is not OK,” Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed to a standing-room-only crowd that overflowed into rooms beyond the Denver Jewish congregation’s massive sanctuary.

Scott Levin, the regional chief of the Anti-Defamation League, said the attack Saturday at the Jewish temple in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood answered unequivocally the question: “Is anti-Semitism still a thing?”

“Yes,” he said, “anti-Semitism still exists.”

For Colorado, a state that’s experienced more than its share of mass violence, the evening vigil seemed to lean on the shared trauma of the metro Denver area and now Pittsburgh. The sea of mourners at Temple Emanuel was quick to give standing ovations as speaker after speaker talked of a show of force to battle growing instances of hate in the state and beyond.

Rabbi Joe Black, of Temple Emmanuel, estimated on Monday that between 3,500 and 4,000 attended Sunday evening’s remembrance.

Mourners pack into Temple Emanuel in Denver on Sunday night, Oct. 28, 2018, for a vigil dedicated to the victims of Saturday morning’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Authorities say 46-year-old Robert Powers stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday morning, as worshipers were gathered for regular Shabbat services, and opened fire with a high-powered rifle, killing 11 and wounding six more. Four of the wounded were police officers.

The attack sent shock waves through the nation’s Jewish communities, including in Denver as evidenced by Sunday’s large showing.

“You see, a basic trust in America has been violated,” said Rabbi Jay Strear, the president and CEO of Jewish Colorado. “How many of us will hesitate before going to synagogue?”

A Who’s Who of political and faith leaders attended the remembrance, from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Republican Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, to prominent civil rights attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai and Sikh leader Dilpreet Jammu.

Denver police Chief Paul Pazen, Aurora police Chief Nick Metz and new Colorado U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn also were present, collectively vowing to protect the state’s faith communities from attack.

“It’s very important that we, together, stand before you,” Pazen said.

Metz, whose department handled the 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left a dozen dead, said he spoke with Pittsburgh’s police chief on Sunday morning and that “his officers are doing OK.”

“His officers went in there knowing that they may not come out,” Metz said. “There’s so many situations like that here in Colorado — whether it’s in the theater shooting, Columbine, whatever — our officers are going in and they are putting themselves in harm’s way in the community.”

“We have been where you are, and this last 24 hours has been triggering,” said Mohamedbhai, who is the general counsel for many Denver area mosques. “It’s hard to describe. Our hearts are filled and broken at the same time.”

Jammu, chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, noted the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six dead and said “in all honesty, I’m getting tired.”

“On behalf of all Colorado Sikhs,” Jammu said, his voice wavering, “let me say that we are truly sorry. Our house of worship, a place that we go to, is a place that should be safe.”

Mourners pack into Temple Emanuel in Denver on Sunday night, Oct. 28, 2018, for a vigil dedicated to the victims of Saturday morning’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The vigil veered into politics at times, with passive talk of tightening gun legislation and more forceful calls to tamp down hate-filled rhetoric.

“We have to find not only the time, but the temperament to listen and to rebuild the communities that have been torn apart,” Hickenlooper said. “And, yes, in some sense to create the rules and regulations that safeguard that community. We have to find the courage to talk about how we uphold and strengthen our common values.”

The Rev. Amanda Henderson, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, discussed “this vitriol and division that has been propagated by our leaders.”

“This disease is killing us,” she said.

The Nov. 6 elections also came up.

“How do we confront this hate among us? How do we dismantle the systemic forces of oppression, which have deeply embedded themselves in our lives, in our laws, in our minds and in our bodies?” Henderson asked. “… First, we must vote.”

Updated at 2:15 p.m. on Oct. 29: This story has been updated to include an estimate on the number of vigil attendees. 

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