What began as a trickle last Sunday morning turned into a deluge by the week’s end as thousands of people packed into synagogues across the nation for Shabbat services on Friday night and Saturday morning in a show of Jewish pride and faith, as Jewish organizations large and small coalesced around a social-media campaign to #ShowUpforShabbat.

Mere hours after the news of the Pittsburgh massacre became known in the Jewish community following the conclusion of Shabbat (when electronic media are not used), Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis opened up the doors of their congregations to visitors wishing to join the traditional prayer services in memory of the departed.

While some hosted memorial ceremonies, many others simply led the daily prayer service attended by extra-large (and often teary-eyed) crowds.

As the week progressed, momentum continued to grow. Congregations scrambled to balance enhanced security measures with the need to keep the doors of their sanctuaries as wide open as possible.

For Chabad rabbis, there was an added complication. This past weekend was the International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries in New York, the largest rabbinical assembly in the world.

Chabad rabbis in the Pittsburgh region unanimously decided that their place this year was at home.

“We will pray together, sing together and celebrate together to honor the memories of our 11 brothers and sisters who literally gave their lives to go to shul,” they wrote in a widely circulated statement.

“Let’s fill all of our shuls to the rafters. Let us say loud and clear to our children, to our community and to the entire world that we will not be intimidated. Let us show them that shul is our refuge where we come together as a community and no one can ever take that away from us.

“If you don’t have a shul to go to, please join us and bring a friend!”

Overflowing Crowds on Campus

Preparing Shabbat candles for hundreds of women for the Chabad at Pitt Friday-night dinner.
Preparing Shabbat candles for hundreds of women for the Chabad at Pitt Friday-night dinner.

Sara Weinstein, co-director of Chabad House on Campus-Pittsburgh with her husband, Rabbi Shmuel Weinstein, who have served students at Pitt for more than 30 years, said “it’s a time to be together—to stand strong and show our Jewish pride. We wish there were different circumstances, but we must use this time to act and be there for each other.”

She noted the enormous impact on the tight-knit community, which, like every Shabbat, congregated in synagogues throughout the city.

“We encouraged people to be together, to go everywhere on Friday and Saturday, to increase in acts of goodness and kindness. We are grieving—this was 11 whole worlds—but hatred only strengthens our resolve; it will increase our Jewish activity,” affirmed Weinstein.

Their efforts were crowned with success. The Chabad House, which serves students at 10 universities, hosted 700 young people on Friday night for Shabbat dinner, and other synagogues in the city reported similar attendance in the hundreds, including at nearby Carnegie Mellon University.

The following morning, 100 students walked to synagogue, where they celebrated the belated bar mitzvah for a fellow student who had recently left the Christian community he had grown up in to reclaim his Jewish heritage. The 19-year-old grew up knowing his mother’s parents were Jewish and had doubted the Christian doctrines that he had been told to believe. A few weeks ago, he gathered up the courage to leave the community behind and embrace his Jewish identity

People came for prayer, for a Shabbat meal and to show solidarity with their fellow Jews.
People came for prayer, for a Shabbat meal and to show solidarity with their fellow Jews.

Standing among a welcoming crowd of fellow Jews, he was called to the Torah with his new Jewish name, said the blessings over the Torah and was pelted with candies, just like any other bar mitzvah.

Following the services, the students walked to Tree of Life synagogue, where they sang, hugged and comforted each other.

“Celebrating a newly reclaimed Jewish life outside the site where 11 Jewish lives were just taken was one of the most moving Shabbat experiences of my life,” said Rabbi Yisroel Bernath of Chabad NDG in Montreal, who came to Pittsburgh to join in solidarity. “We sang and danced and were inspired.”

The Chabad House, which serves students at 10 universities, hosted 700 young people on Friday night for Shabbat dinner. Other synagogues in the city reported similar attendance in the hundreds.
The Chabad House, which serves students at 10 universities, hosted 700 young people on Friday night for Shabbat dinner. Other synagogues in the city reported similar attendance in the hundreds.
Shabbat dinner for hundreds.
Shabbat dinner for hundreds.
Many congregations saw record attendance at services.
Many congregations saw record attendance at services.