Nearly 1,500 Houstonians gathered Sunday night for an interfaith candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue attack.
The Houston Rabbinical Association and other representatives of the city's Jewish community led the vigil, which was held at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center near Meyerland. Jewish leaders and other faith-based community officials called for unity during the ceremony, urging Houstonians and Texans across the state to fight hatred in all its forms.
"It brought people together," Joel Dinkin, CEO of the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center told Houston Matters. "People needed an opportunity, wanted an opportunity, to express themselves and feel a part of a community. People from all faiths were here."
The accused gunman faces multiple state and federal charges after the 46-year-old opened fire, killing eight men and three women inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh during Saturday morning worship services.
Across the country, condolences and remembrances of the 11 victims of the deadly attack were held over the weekend. There is also a national movement to organize Solidarity Shabbat services next weekend.
"We are encouraging people to go to synagogues next Friday night and Saturday morning for the Sabbath to make a statement that we are a people of faith; that we believe; and that we can feel safe," Avital Ingber, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, told Houston Matters.
In the aftermath of the shooting, synagogues have been boosting security and ramping up visibility of officers in areas near worship centers.
"It forced us to talk and to say, ok, what conversations do we need to have about our own security? How do we make sure that our security measures are in order?" Ingber said. "There’s no way to absolutely prevent anything like this, unfortunately in the polarized world in which we’re living, but we need to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to be safe and secure."
Dinkin echoed this sentiment, saying the center has security concerns on a regular basis. "We are always focusing on security here," he said.
According to the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. increased nearly 60% in 2017 compared to the previous year. The Southwest region, which encompasses Houston, saw a similar increase, with the number of reported instances doubling.
"Antisemitism is definitely on the rise, but it’s not just antisemitism it’s also hatred in all its forms," Dena Marks, Senior Associate Director of the Southwest Regional Office of the ADL, told Houston Matters.
This latest attack also nears the one-year anniversary of the Sutherland Springs church shooting, where 26 people were shot and killed while attending Sunday service about 30 miles east of San Antonio.