Hundreds celebrate Hanukkah outside Pittsburgh synagogue

Public Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony held outside Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were murdered.

Elad Benari ,

Tree of Life synagogue
Tree of Life synagogue
Alexi Rosenfeld

A public Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony was held on Sunday night outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were murdered in a mass shooting in October.

"To me, it's a simple message: The light is the message," said Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, according to The Associated Press, as he pointed to the Hanukkiyah which stood at the corner where a makeshift memorial for the 11 victims once stood.

About 500 people gathered outside Tree of Life to pray, sing songs and witness the candle lighting, according to the report.

"We are practicing our Jewish faith publicly and proudly," said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light, whose congregation, along with congregants from Dor Hadash and Tree of Life, had gathered at the synagogue when the shooting occurred October 27.

The suspected shooter, Robert Bowers, raged against Jews during and after the shooting, authorities said.

Bowers was indicted by a federal grand jury on 44 counts. Charges against him include religious hate crimes, firearms charges and causing injury to police officers. He remains jailed without bail, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Before entering the synagogue, Bowers tweeted that "I can't wait while my people are getting slaughtered.... I’m going in". His social media was rife with anti-Semitic comments.

President Donald Trump described Bowers as "pure evil" after the massacre.

Although the gunman targeted the Jewish community, Cohen cautioned that the shooting serves as a warning.

"The reality is it affects other religious communities, too," he said, according to AP. "We are coming together in comradeship and to help to see if we can work together. What happened here, clearly this is a sign, this is a signal and it can't be ignored."

Earlier on Sunday, Trump mentioned the synagogue massacre in his Hanukkah message to the Jewish people.

“Unfortunately, Jews today continue to face many different forms of violence, hatred, and bigotry around the globe. We remember all those from the Tree of Life—Or L’Simcha Congregation—whose lives were tragically taken in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this past October. As one Nation, we pledge our continued love and support for the victims, their families, and the community, and we pray that the victims’ families find some measure of peace and comfort during this holiday season,” he wrote.

Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke on Friday at the Israeli-American Council (IAC) National Conference, described the Pittsburgh massacre as “not just criminal; it was evil.”

“This anti-Semitic attack was an assault not just on the Jewish community. It was an assault on all of us in America. And we stand together. There is no place in America for anti-Semitism and violence, and we will confront and condemn it everywhere it rears its ugly head,” he added.

The US House of Representatives recently unanimously approved a bipartisan resolution condemning the anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life synagogue.