As she made her way into Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s sanctuary on Oct. 28, a somber Tammy Routman Heyman greeted friends and acquaintances at the community memorial service for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting massacre that left 11 worshipers dead the previous day.
But her mind was on Cecil and David Rosenthal, a pair of brothers she knew from the Tree of Life Synagogue in her native Pittsburgh. Cecil, 59, and David, 54, were among the victims at the synagogue, where Heyman became a bat mitzvah and her late father, Alan Routman, served on the board of directors.
“Cecil and David were two special needs brothers who were the fabric of that shul,” said Heyman, a Stevenson resident and Chizuk Amuno congregant who moved to Baltimore in 1981. “Every Shabbat, you were greeted at the door by Cecil and David. They gave out prayer books and greeted people at the door. Everyone in [the neighborhood of] Squirrel Hill knew them. They were staples, and I knew their bubbie, Ida. She was friends with my bubbie, Lena. …
“This is all shocking, surreal,” she said. “Now I know how Israelis feel when something happens over there. Sadly, this could happen anywhere.”
More than 1,000 people attended the 40-minute service at BHC, which was organized by the temple and the Baltimore Jewish Council, the political and community relations arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. (The Associated and local synagogues have called for Nov. 2-3 to be observed as a Shabbat of remembrance for the Pittsburgh victims at congregations throughout the area.)
“We reach out across state lines today as one people,” said BHC’s Rabbi Andrew Busch. “Yesterday reminds us that hatred is not gone and lives on. We think this morning of those who were wounded and of the families and community [in Pittsburgh]. And we reach out – to God, to humanity, to our nation’s leadership.”
Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen, also of BHC, thanked attendees for coming to the service from all segments of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
“My heart is very heavy today from the grief of the loss of life and the pain and bewilderment that the joy of Shabbat could, in some perverted way, be seen as so evil to a man that he felt justified to commit murder,” she said. “This is not the first time, and we are not the only ones whose lives mean nothing to someone who hates.”
Rabbi Sachs-Kohen said she worries that someone she loves could someday become a victim of gun violence. She criticized lawmakers and other leaders who offer thoughts and prayers when atrocities happen but little else to remedy the situation.
“We mourn and must turn to one another for comfort in the community,” she said. “We must grieve the unfathomable at this moment. But we are strong today because we live in a country that is great because of its people, its diversity, its laws and its constitution. Tomorrow, let us be strong and stand together, because crying is not enough.”
After musical selections by BHC’s Cantor Ben Ellerin, Rabbi Sachs-Kohen asked all members of the clergy in attendance to come up on the bimah to lead a singing of “Oseh Shalom.” Among the clergy there were Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl of BHC-Temple Emanuel, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel and Rabbi Deborah Wechsler of Chizuk Amuno.
Among the elected officials in attendance were Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd), Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-11th), Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st) and City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-5th), as well as a slew of political candidates.
“We stand in unity because what happened in Pittsburgh was an attack on all human life,” said Cardin, speaking on behalf of the elected officials. “This hits particularly hard. This was a house of prayer and worship, a sanctuary for people who were killed because of their religious beliefs. Hate can have no place in our country. We need to make that clear in our deeds and our words that there’s no place for hate in America.
“Let each of us carry the message that we will speak up and act to end hate in this country, and show that globally,” he said.
Baltimore County Executive Donald I. Mohler III noted that the last time he stood in BHC’s sanctuary was to attend the funeral last May of his predecessor and friend, Kevin Kamenetz.
“I was never prouder of my friend than when he spoke out against hatred and racism and anti-Semitism, and he did that every day,” Mohler said. “He knew that the United States he loved was not the America that’s rearing its ugly head like it did yesterday.
“The Tree of Life is like the holy space we’re in today, and people came together to welcome a newborn baby,” he said, referring to a brit milah taking place at the Pittsburgh synagogue that day. “I believe we will still come together. While we mourn and hug, we must also hope and believe that we will build a world of love.”
Concluding the program, Rabbi Busch — who previously served as associate rabbi at Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Congregation — asked everyone in the sanctuary with a personal connection to Pittsburgh to stand up and be recognized.
“Our determination and that of our allies is real, and hatred – and anti-Semitism specifically – must be called out for ourselves and others,” the rabbi said. “We honor the memory of those attacked yesterday. … As we depart, may we be blessed with the strength and focus and determination to fight for ourselves and others in this world.”
Among those in attendance was Martha M. Weiman, a Holocaust survivor and past president of BHC and the BJC. An unabashed “news junkie,” she said she was in her Lutherville kitchen when hearing about the Pittsburgh massacre on the TV news.
“I was stunned, and I still can’t believe I’m here today. It’s eerie and like déjà vu as a survivor,” said the German-born Weiman. “I’m extremely frightened and concerned about what this could lead to. We’re seeing this pattern. People have freer reign to act on their worst impulses. I worry about my children and grandchildren. It’s a scary time and if this can happen, anything can happen.”
What has alleviated some of Weiman’s anxieties have been words of support and encouragement from non-Jewish friends and associates.
“On Facebook, I heard from one Muslim friend yesterday who said, ‘We can’t allow this to happen,’” she said. “Another Muslim friend said to me today, ‘Remember, we’re all cousins.’ … On Thursday I went to Towson University and waited an hour and 20 minutes to vote, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. We have to exercise our rights as American citizens.”
Tammy Routman Heyman said she had just returned home from work when she learned of the massacre at her hometown synagogue.
“I saw the [TV] images of the synagogue’s iconic tree [artwork] and the stained glass windows and the corner, and I couldn’t believe it,” said Heyman, holding back tears. “My sister and I know every inch of that shul, every hallway and atrium. It’s all unnerving and painful. Part of me wants to drive up right now to Pittsburgh, just to be there.”
When asked if she agreed with President Trump’s contention that armed security guards should have been posted at the synagogue’s doors, Heyman smiled and said, “I just think you should count to 10 before you talk, and know the circumstances. If Tree of Life could’ve done anything [to prevent the massacre], they would have. This is happening everywhere, even in schools, but it needs to not be the norm. Unfortunately, this was in Pittsburgh. Let’s hope that’s it – be done with it.”
Like Weiman, Heyman said she was encouraged by the reactions and support of non-Jews. “A lot of my friends from Pittsburgh put up Stars of David on their Facebook pages,” she said. “Pittsburgh is a lot like Baltimore, so this was typical. I’ve always been ‘Pittsburgh Proud.’ I feel very lucky to live in Baltimore and I love it here, but I’m only here in person. My heart has always been in Pittsburgh.”