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Perspective From Pittsburgh After Another Synagogue Attack

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Last night in Pittsburgh, residents gathered for a vigil to honor the victims of the synagogue shooting in Poway, Calif., a suburb of San Diego. They said Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, for the woman who died in the attack. Among those attending was Donna Coufal. She is the president of Dor Hadash, one of the congregations that uses the Tree of Life synagogue, where six months ago to the day, 11 people were killed in a hate crime attack. She joins us now on the line. Welcome to the program.

DONNA COUFAL: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I wonder what your reaction was when you heard the news yesterday about the attack.

COUFAL: Well, I felt sick and heartbroken, as I have with every attack over the last several months. It was very upsetting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell us a little bit about last night's gathering?

COUFAL: Yeah. So Congregation Dor Hadash is a lay-led, egalitarian congregation. And we were just searching for what to do besides just releasing statements. One of our members, Judy Yanowitz, had the idea to have a vigil. And so we contacted as many members of the Squirrel Hill community and Jewish community that we could. And we gathered at the Tree of Life building, where the shooting had occurred in October. This was the six-month anniversary, to the day, of that shooting. And we met. We sang, and we had prayers. And our mayor spoke. And we stood there in the rain together.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I imagine it must be very difficult to gather like that at a time like this, when we've seen so many attacks against religious groups lately, in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, here in the United States. Is there a way to make sense of this?

COUFAL: Well, I don't know that we can totally make sense of it at all. I mean, I think we're all struggling with it. I think one of the things we've learned is, as a community, we're both - we try to be very kind to each other, and we also try to be very helpful to the - to the world at large. We're having marches in Pittsburgh today. We care about gun violence. I'm excited about some of the young people studying technology. Maybe we can stop some of the Internet explosion that's increasing this kind of violent language. So I'm - I'm hopeful that there are things that we can do to make changes for our next generation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are there any words for the members of the Poway synagogue after your community went through something like this? What - what would you say to them?

COUFAL: Well, first of all, I want to extend my condolences to the whole community on the loss of Lori Gilbert-Kaye. I think it's very important to say the names of the people who have died so that people will know that they'll be remembered. And we extend our care and our comfort to this community. And we're happy to talk with them at any time and to just encourage them to be strong and loving through this very horrible experience.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's been six months since the Tree of Life shootings. How is your congregation doing?

COUFAL: Well, we're a pretty strong and tough little group. We hold together. We're helping our most vulnerable members. And a lot of us who have never had to step up before are stepping up and trying to make a difference. So we're OK.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Donna Coufal of the Dor Hadash congregation in Pittsburgh, thank you very much for speaking with us.

COUFAL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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