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The First Jewish Sabbath Following The Deadly Pittsburgh Shooting


Now to Pittsburgh, where, as you surely know, a man opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue last week killing 11 people. The man has been charged on more than 40 federal counts, including hate crimes and firearms offences. But on this, the first Jewish Sabbath following the shooting, Jews and non-Jews alike were invited to show up for Shabbat. Sarah Boden of member station WESA in Pittsburgh attended services this morning at Rodef Shalom. That's a reformed synagogue located less than a mile and a half from where the shooting took place.

Hi, Sarah. Thanks so much for joining us.

SARAH BODEN, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Was this morning different from most Saturday mornings?

BODEN: I think the biggest difference from what I was told is that there is just so many people there. Usually, services are held in a chapel. Maybe three dozen congregants show up. This morning, services were held in the sanctuary that can seat 1,100 people, I was told. More than half of those seats were filled. Jews, non-Jews, secular Jews - a lot of different people were there.

MARTIN: Were there any particular moments that really stood out for you?

BODEN: At one point, people who were there as guests and not members of the congregation were asked to stand. And more than a third of those present stood. I spoke with Rabbi Aaron Bisno after services. And he says the support his community has received this week has been moving.

AARON BISNO: When bad things happen, it's how we respond. What it means - that we discover within ourselves and within one another in the face of trial and tragedy. And the thin but bright silver lining has been the sense of shared humanity and connection that reassures us that we're not alone.

MARTIN: Tell me about some of the other things that you heard. Did other people share the rabbi's sentiment?

BODEN: Oh, definitely. Everybody talked about being together as a community, supporting the Jewish community. I talked to another faith leader, a Presbyterian faith leader, and she said that she really just wanted to show up and be there for the - Pittsburgh's Jewish community. And I spoke with one woman who used to live in Pittsburgh but now resides in California. And she said she was so upset about what happened last week that she flew to Pittsburgh and was at services this morning. And she just felt like she had to be here with the Jewish community because that's just what she felt like she had to do.

MARTIN: Now, there's just been a range of emotions being experienced by people this week in Pittsburgh. Just a few days ago, President Trump visited Pittsburgh. There were protests. You covered that. And I was wondering what, if anything, people had to say about that today.

BODEN: Yeah, it came up a couple times. One woman was pretty annoyed with the president - about how he was dismissive of Tuesday's demonstration. As I'm sure you know, people have been saying the phrase, words matter a lot, which is a reference to President Trump's often incendiary rhetoric. That was something that Rodef Shalom member Terri Gleuck addressed. We chatted, and here's a little bit of what she had to say.

TERRI GLEUCK: You know, there's been just so much talk about words matter. Well, words matter on both sides. Words matter that are unkind and dehumanizing, and words matter on the other side. The kindness and the outpouring of real, human, deep love - that matters, too. We can never have enough of that.

MARTIN: And, Sarah, finally, what sense did you get out of what happens now?

BODEN: A couple people I spoke to compared this to the 9/11 terrorist attacks - definitely feels that there is a distinct before and after. But a lot of people are at services today, and Jewish life continues in Pittsburgh.

MARTIN: That is WESA'S Sarah Boden.

Sarah, thank you.

BODEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Boden covers health, science and technology for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.