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'We Are Shocked, Shaken': Charlotte Rabbi Reflects On Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack

Rabbi Murray Ezring of Charlotte's Temple Israel
Murray Ezring

Leaders of Jewish congregations around the country, including Charlotte, are grappling with Saturday’s deadly attack in Pittsburgh. 11 people were killed when a gunman opened fire during Sabbath services at Tree of Life Synagogue. The Anti-Defamation League called it the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

In Charlotte, services were concluding Saturday morning at Temple Israel, when news of the Pittsburgh attack arrived. "You could hear an audible gasp when the announcement was made," says Temple Israel Senior Rabbi Murray Ezring. "We are shocked, and we are shaken," added Ezring, who has led the Conservative Jewish synagogue for more than two decades. 

WFAE’s Mark Rumsey spoke with Rabbi Ezring  about the shootings in Pittsburgh, and how the tragedy might affect his congregation of more than 1,500 members. Ezring began by explaining how he learned about the attack.

Rabbi Murray Ezring: A member of my congregation asked me to come down off our pulpit at the end of services because he had just come into the building and [brought] news of the event and he told me what had happened. Instead of our normal, very happy and joyous conclusion to services, I announced to the congregation what had happened. We did a memorial prayer followed by our Mourner's Kaddish - which speaks about the greatness of God and how God gives us life after life, as well as having given us life here. I myself was so shaken, I messed up the words of the memorial prayer, which is not common for me.

Mark Rumsey: Rabbi, does an attack of this brazen nature, and as close to home as it was - does that change the landscape in terms of how members of synagogues such as yours will feel about coming together to worship in the time ahead?

Ezring: You know the reality is that although these were our co-religionists, our relatives, and our friends who died, any time there's an attack against a house of worship - be [it] the church or a mosque or a temple of some kind or a synagogue - an attack on one is an attack on all. It seems to be an attack on the goal that religion sets, that we believe comes from God, that we should be living together in peace and unity and improving the world together.  And there seem to be people who just cannot abide by that kind of thinking. 

Rumsey: Can you have any sense at this point as to how a sense of physical insecurity or fear may permeate your congregation?

Ezring: I know that whenever these attacks happen, our congregants feel a little shaken and a little less secure. However, Temple Israel, Temple Beth El, the Federation, Shalom Park - we've been working together with the local police department, the state authorities and national /federal authorities to heighten and tighten the security around us.

No one can ever be completely secure anywhere in this country ,anywhere in the world. But we do the best that we can so that our people don't have to be fearful of coming to pray.

I believe that Charlotte has shown in its past that the religious communities coalesce and stand firmly side by side when tragedies like this occur. And I pray that will always remain, and I pray that the unity that religious life brings to this world will spread throughout the country.

Rumsey: Rabbi Murray Ezring, thank you very much for taking this time, at such a difficult time, to speak with us.

Ezring: Thank you, Mark.

Mark Rumsey grew up in Kansas and got his first radio job at age 17 in the town of Abilene, where he announced easy-listening music played from vinyl record albums.