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"That Could Have Been Us": Pittsburgh Shooting Victims Remembered At Salt Lake Synagogue

Photo of candles being lit
Lee Hale / KUER
Holocaust survivor Abe Katz (left) and Rabbi Avremi Zippel (right) light 11 candles, one for each victim of the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Gov. Gary Herbert joined religious leaders in Salt Lake City last night at a vigil to honor the 11 victims killed Saturday during a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Hundreds gathered at Chabad Lubavitch of Utah where Rabbi Benni Zippel led the group in scripture reading and prayer.

Speaking to reporters after the vigil, Herbert said he’s worried about the political rhetoric in the country. He said Americans need to learn how to not let disagreements turn to disdain.

“I think we’re all devastated by the tragic shooting that took place there,” Herbert said.


Zippel organized last night’s vigil to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday’s deadly rampage which occurred when Robert Bowers, 46, armed with an assault rifle and yelling anti-Semitic slurs, opened fire inside the Tree of Life Synagogue during a Sabbath worship. Zippel’s 20-year-old son attends college in Pittsburgh, where he was at another Jewish worship service less than a mile away when the attack began.

Zippel said his son could hear the police and ambulance sirens responding to the scene in what has been described as among the deadliest attacks ever on the Jewish community on American soil. Six others, including four police officers, were also injured in the shooting.

“It really hit home in a powerful way,” Zippel said.

Zippel’s Chabad, located in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City, is part house of worship, part community center that to serve’ Utah’s entire Jewish population.

Ever since he heard about the shooting Zippel has had the same thought running through his head.

“That could have been us. He could have been in Salt Lake City,” Zippel said.

Almost immediately Zippel began worrying about protocol and precautions at his Chabad in Salt Lake City. Although they’ve never experienced threats of violence, the Jewish Congregation Kol Ami up the road has in years past.

Zippel said he is planning to apply for an Urban Area Security Initiative or UASI grant from the Department of Homeland Security in order to beef up their security.

Although it now feels necessary, Zippel said the idea of protecting a house of worship feels inherently wrong.

“It feels raw and wrong to think that a house of worship cannot be a safe place in 2018 in the United States of America,” Zippel said.

Zippel reached out to a number of faith organizations — Muslim, Mormon and others — to hold the vigil. In an interview earlier in the day, Zippel said his hope is that the gathering will inspire at least one person to let go of the hate they may feel and commit to being a better neighbor.

“That is the greatest tribute that can be given to those whose lives were brutally taken,” Zippel said.

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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