Roanoke's Jewish community leaning on faith in wake of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Beth Israel, Temple Emmanuel to hold joint service Tuesday night

ROANOKE, Va. – The tragedy in Pittsburgh is sending shock-waves all across the country and impacting the Jewish community right here in Southwest Virginia. 

Pittsburgh is hundreds of miles away -- but this tragedy hits close to home for the Beth Israel Synagogue in Roanoke. 

They were in the middle of a prayer service Saturday morning when they heard about the shooting, and the service took an immediate turn. 

"We switched in our services to a part of our prayer book that deals with prayers in times of tragedy," said Rabbi Jama Purser.  

"Strengthen me against evil people ... protect me from those who are violent who in their hearts plot evil," read the congregation as they recited a prayer in unison. 

Rabbi Purser is leaning on her faith while addressing her congregation's fears after the deadly shooting rampage at a Pittsburgh synagogue. 

"My immediate thoughts were are we safe?," said Rabbi Purser. 

Anti-semitism is on the rise across the country, something the local Jewish community is all too familiar with. 

The anti-semitic flyer shown below were found across Roanoke College's campus earlier this month. They were also posted at the two synagogues in Roanoke. 

10 News was sent a copy of the flyer found on campus Tuesday morning.
10 News was sent a copy of the flyer found on campus Tuesday morning.

"We think most people are good and would like to see this type of violence end," said Rabbi Purser. 

In the meantime, they're reevaluating their security.

"God forbid that should happen in our own synagogues but in this day and age, we have to be prepared and we have to be ready," said Rabbi Purser. 

But when it comes to security, places of worship present unique concerns.

"To be welcoming but also be somewhat observant and on guard," said Officer Ronnie Hodges of the Roanoke Police Department. 

That's why police are working closely with religious leaders, to make sure people feel safe.

"The odds of this happening is really rare, however, we don't bury our head in the sand anymore," said Officer Hodges.

Out of tragedy, signs of hope. Messages of support from strangers... written in chalk on the sidewalk in front of Beth Israel. 

"We have faith in God, we have faith in each other and we have faith in our broader community," said Rabbi Purser. 

To show their solidarity and support for the Pittsburgh community, the Beth Israel congregation is teaming up with Temple Emmanuel in Roanoke to hold a prayer service Tuesday night. 

About the Author: