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At vigil, Richmond faith leaders and Virginia officials urge unity after Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, decry hatred
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At vigil, Richmond faith leaders and Virginia officials urge unity after Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, decry hatred

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Congregants from dozens of temples, mosques, churches and other places of worship gathered outside the Weinstein JCC on Tuesday night to pray for the 11 people killed in a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.

Faith leaders from a half-dozen religions and denominations called for unity and decried the hate and violence that had brought them all together.

“The defining characteristic of Jews has always been our sense of peoplehood,” said Ellen Renee Adams, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. “No matter where we live or how we practice, we are one people. We are one family. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.”

Adams said everyone among the hundreds in attendance at Tuesday’s vigil was family.

“We join together with our Jewish family, and we gain strength from our broader family, joined by our Christian, Muslim and friends of all faiths, because tonight we are not Jews. We are not Muslims. We are not Catholic or Baptist,” she said. “Tonight we are one family leaning on and supporting each other.”

Virginia first lady Pamela Northam said she and her husband, Gov. Ralph Northam, extended their condolences. She said they condemned the violence in Pittsburgh, which she called “a violation of all of our humanity.”

“As we wrestle with our grief, we must have the courage to continue to reject bigotry, racism, to seek peace and reconciliation,” she said. “Hate has no place here.”

She drew a connection to a meeting with the interfaith community in Charlottesville last year where she also spoke of tolerance ahead of a deadly rally of white nationalists. She said it was encouraging to see so many different Virginians coming together to defend one another.

“We have so much more in common than that what divides us,” she said. “Here in Virginia, we welcome people of every faith, of every nationality, of every race and every orientation. We must continue to uphold these essential American values today.”

Attorney General Mark Herring told the crowd to “look around and find strength. We all belong here.”

Rabbi Ahuva Zaches, of Congregation Or Ami off Huguenot Road, encouraged the faithful not to lose hope and not to be afraid.

“We may be tempted to retreat, to stay home instead of going out to the synagogue, or the grocery store, or the schools where our sense of security was shattered,” she said. “But by retreating in fear, we would be creating a larger absence at a time when our presence is needed most.”

She explained that in the Jewish tradition, like in others, it is when the people come together that goodness and light come, too.

Rebekah Rosenthal said she brought her children to the vigil so they could see how others handled the tragedy by coming together and lifting one another up.

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