Steamboat’s Jewish community mourns murders at Pittsburgh synagogue

The Tree of Life Synagogue and a memorial of flowers and stars on display in remembrance of those killed and injured when a shooter opened fire during the synagogue’s Saturday services Oct. 27. (B. Peterson/Shutterstock)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Rabbi Mark Goodman and his daughter were at their own synagogue in Pittsburgh, about six blocks away from the Tree of Life Synagogue, when a gunman entered Tree of Life and killed 11 people Oct. 27.

Goodman’s synagogue was placed on lockdown, and only members and people familiar to the synagogue were allowed into the building.

If you go

What: Service for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting hosted by Har Mishpacha
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2
Where: Labyrinth Room at the Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church

“They were worried that if you were out on the street that you were in danger,” he said.

Goodman served as the traveling rabbi for Har Mishpacha, Steamboat Springs’ Jewish congregation, for about four years before moving to Pittsburgh in August.

“We had quite a wait on Saturday to hear back from him (Goodman) to make sure that he and his family were OK,” said Joella West, president of the Har Mishpacha board.

In the days since, Goodman and other Pittsburgh rabbis have been working to minister to a traumatized and grieving community, fielding media requests and trying to remember to eat and sleep, Goodman said.

He conducted an interview with the Steamboat Pilot & Today after leading a portion of shiva, which is the Jewish mourning ritual, for the family of one of the Tree of Life victims.

“God called me to be here, and I’m here trying to help these folks through a really tragic, terrible situation,” Goodman said.

Har Mishpacha has invited the entire Steamboat community to a service to grieve and pray for the victims of the shooting and their families at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 in the Labyrinth Room at the Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church.

Two prayers will be recited in both English and Hebrew — the mourner’s kaddish, a prayer for those in mourning, and the mi sheberach, a prayer for healing.

People in the community will also be invited to say a few words if they wish to, West said.

“The attack there is an attack on every Jewish congregation everywhere, as far as we’re concerned,” she said. “It’s simply a matter of showing that we care for them — for the victims and the families. It’s also a matter of showing our own congregation and our community that there is a way to gather in our town to do that, together. ”

The gunman, Robert Bowers, pleaded not guilty to 44 federal charges Thursday, including 11 counts each of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and discharge of a firearm to commit murder, according to his indictment.

While in the synagogue, he stated that he wanted to “kill Jews,” according to his indictment. Bowers posted and shared more than two-dozen anti-Semitic posts on social media before the murders.

“Hate speech and political rhetoric demonizing the other is becoming toxic for our society,” Goodman said, adding that this does not just impact Jewish people, but immigrants, minorities and the LGBTQ communities. “Demonizing people has dangerous results.”

Goodman also said he believes Americans are resigned to the fact that there will be another mass shooting.

“The thing that’s sad about Pittsburgh is that it’s not unique,” he said. “It’s not different from Newtown or Orlando or Charleston, where people got shot for a variety of reasons — because they’re black, because they’re gay, because they were at a country music concert.”

Goodman said the thing that binds all these deaths together is “someone sick and twisted and hateful, that was generally well-known through social media as violent or dangerous, has unlimited access to firearms — and extremely powerful firearms.

“Gun owners should be able to go hunting and be able to protect themselves at home, but domestic terrorists and lunatics should not be given free rein to terrorize people online with hate speech and then go out and commit an act of violence against them,” Goodman said.

Goodman recommended that people pen and collect letters of support for Har Mishpacha, who he said would appreciate the sense of solidarity from the local community.

“Don’t sit idly by and do nothing and wait for the next mass shooting,” he said. “Talk to leaders in our country about sensible approaches to stemming this tide of nonstop violence in our society.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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