ALBANY — In the wake of the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, cler-gy of many faiths in Albany County met with local leaders and the community for a mo-ment of healing.
Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy last Wednesday held a “Healing Moments” forum at The College of Saint Rose, where a panel of clergy discussed unity, civility, religious un-derstanding and tolerance for diversity.
“This tragedy, believed to be the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in United States history that took 11 innocent lives, comes on the heels of an alarming uptick in hate crimes and violence targeting members of the Jewish faith and other religious communi-ties, as well as animus and hate crimes directed at minorities and other members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees throughout New York and the country,” McCoy said in a statement.
The statistics are troubling, according to McCoy.
“According to the Anti-Defamation League, from 2016 to 2017, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. increased by 57 percent — the highest single-year increase since reporting such occurrences began,” McCoy continued. “New York had the highest number out of any oth-er state in 2017, which saw an increase of 90 percent over the number from 2016.”
The forum, which was part of the “Healing Moments” series of events that addresses broader issues, was held at the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary at The College of Saint Rose in Albany on Wednesday, Oct. 31.
Clergy from several religious faiths participated in the panel, including Rabbi Debora Gor-don from Congregation Berith Sholom, Imam Dr. Abdulkadir Elmi from the As Al Salaam Mosque, the Rev. Jim Kane from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, and the Rev. Mon-shin Paul Naamon from the Tendai Buddhist Institute.
Cantor Jodi Schechtman, of Congregation Beth Emeth, moderated the event.
Local clergy were asked to begin a discussion promoting tolerance for people of all faiths.
“Our faith in a loving God who created us all reminds us that we belong to each other as members of one human family,” the Rev. Kane said during the panel.
Meanwhile, state police are planning to increase patrols around local places of worship following the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, the Tree of Life Congregation in that city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
The shooting is considered one of the deadliest attacks against the Jewish community in the U.S., according to The New York Times.
After shooting 11 congregants inside the synagogue, the gunman, identified by authorities as Robert Bowers, turned his weapons on police. Barricading himself on an upper floor, Bowers engaged in a desperate shootout that left him and four police officers wounded.
The attack in the Tree of Life synagogue ended when Bowers surrendered to police offic-ers while wounded and crawling on his knees. He “wanted all Jews to die,” he told a SWAT officer, authorities said, because Jews “were committing genocide against his people.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered state police to step up patrols around synagogues and other houses of worship in the area in response to the shooting.
“While the nation awaits further details of what occurred, initial reports suggest that this senseless act of gun violence was an anti-Semitic attack and we stand together with the Jewish community in this difficult time, as we always have before,” Cuomo said. “As a pre-caution, I have directed state police to increase patrols around Jewish centers and houses of worship across the state.
“We, as a nation, must stand together and stand against the corrosive and destructive forces of hate in all of its forms.”
State Police Public Information Officer Aaron Hicks declined to release details about the state police’s strategy for increased patrols in the region.
The New York Times and Sarah Trafton from Columbia-Greene Media contributed to this report.