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More than 200 miles of separation didn't stop hundreds of York-area residents from uniting for a vigil honoring those killed and injured during a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The Monday, Oct. 29, York Vigil Against Hate was held two days after Robert Bowers, a Pittsburgh man with a history of anti-Semitic social media posts, allegedly opened fire in the synagogue, killing 11 and injuring six others, four of them police officers.

But those at the vigil didn't give the shooter the benefit of attention, instead focusing on honoring those harmed and killed during the shooting, hopeful for a better, more peaceful future.

Not a sound could be heard during the vigil but cars driving by and the sobs, songs and prayers of those in attendance.

The only illumination on the brick sidewalk in front of York City Hall came from streetlights, buildings and the flickering candles attendees held.

Muslims, Christians and a local rabbi all spoke in front of the crowd covering South George Street, all preaching the same message: Peace.

Helfrich: York City Mayor Michael Helfrich was the first official to speak about the shooting.

"When our synagogues, mosques, churches and temples are targeted by the darkest form of evil, we lose the deepest core values of our country: Freedom and respect," Helfrich said. "We veer from the vision that someday we will live in a country where all men and women are treated as equally as we were created."

The mayor reflected on his German ancestry, referring to World War II, seemingly showing regret that when action was needed to protect the Jewish people, his ancestors fell silent. 

"i stand with you all here tonight to speak out against evil, denounce superiority and false pride," he said. "There are none that are less than me, there are none that are greater than me. We are all equal in the eyes of our creator."

Wolf: Gov. Tom Wolf was also in attendance, solemnly standing in the background, arms linked with his wife, Frances, before walking to the microphone.

"These worshipers were murdered for no other reason than who they were, the religion they professed and the God they worshiped," Wolf said. "It was a despicable and a cowardly act of anti-Semitism that has no place in our society."

With his voice cracking and his demeanor showing visible sadness, the governor encouraged residents statewide to use the experience as a reason to fight for equality and respect.

Wolf said the "attack on our humanity" didn't represent Pennsylvanians, emphasizing that the state's residents depend on each other and need to "use the hateful attack in Pittsburgh to reaffirm our deep and abiding commitment to the simple notion of respect."

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Rabbi Astrachan: Rabbi Jeffery Astrachan of Temple Beth Israel in York was the only Jewish speaker, playing songs on his guitar and speaking to the peace that he said should follow such a violent event.

"We have come together here tonight to say that we stand against hate," Astrachan said. "We stand for hope and for love and for community. We are willing not only to dedicate our words but our time and our resources to make our world a more loving and safe place for all people."

The rabbi, like the speakers before him, expressed his confidence in the acceptance demonstrated within the York community before playing a last song in Hebrew that resonated throughout the crowd.

Bowers was charged Monday with federal offenses that included causing death while obstructing a person's right to the free exercise of religion — a hate crime — and using a gun to commit murder. He was also charged with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation. 

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady is seeking the death penalty for Bowers, which would require approval of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. President Donald Trump has vocally supported the punishment.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

 

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