The crowd roared with applause during the rabbi’s stirring speech, rising slowly to their feet.
“I take that as an applause for life,” said Rabbi Dennis Sasso, of Congregation Beth El Zedeck. The ovation came after Sasso spurned what he called the “proliferation of guns” in the U.S. and Indiana’s lack of a hate crime law.
“This is not the time for arms, it’s the time to lock arms together,” he said. “Let’s make America good again.”
Three days after a gunman opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 worshippers, faith leaders gathered at the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation on the north side to remember the victims.
The congregation swelled Monday night — with more than 200 attendees sitting down, standing on the sides and spilling out into the halls of the synagogue. They listened to speakers that included Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Lindsay Mintz, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. U.S. Rep. André Carson and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Bryan Roach were also in attendance.
The gathering came on the same day as the first court appearance for Robert Bowers, USA TODAY reports. Bowers, 46, is charged with 29 criminal counts, including 11 federal hate-crime charges, in an attack the Anti-Defamation League called the deadliest against the Jewish community in U.S. history.
As speakers took to the podium in the Indianapolis synagogue, they all, in their own words, called for unity.
“Every single one is us is an ambassador of peace,” said Imam Ahmed Alamine, of the Indianapolis Muslim Community Association. “We protect the mosques, the synagogues and the churches. I’m encouraging all of us to build these bridges, not burn them.”
Hogsett said the country is seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and urged people to be vigilant about what is right and what is wrong.
“Many lament that our national political dialogue is too much,” he said. “I actually believe there’s not enough. If we are to bind up the nation’s wounds it will only be if each of us has the courage to voice what is true and what is right. To drown out the shouts of hate with a communal chorus, that everyone belongs here,” Hogsett said.
Others called for action.
“We need more than prayer,” Rabbi Sasso said. “The (victims) were in the middle of prayer when they were gunned down.”
Jeremy Price, a professor at IUPUI, encouraged the congregation to vote, saying “we must call out and name the lack of common-sense gun laws that allow hateful people to purchase instruments of murder to maim and kill with military efficiency.”
After Saturday’s rampage at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the Jewish Community Relations Council in Indianapolis said anti-Semitic acts and expressions are “at an all time high, and increasing fastest in the Midwest.”
On Monday Mintz advised the congregation to practice their responses to people who spew anti-Semitic, xenophobic, Islamophobic speech. “Practice those words now,” she urged.
IndyStar reporters Ryan Martin and Natalia E. Contreras contributed to this report.