November 7, 2018

Theresa Java/Free Press
Monroe County Sheriff's Office Col. Lou Caputo spoke at the Keys Jewish Community Center during its Tree of Life Memorial Service. Caputo said the sense of community in the Florida Keys is palpable.

Theresa Java/Free Press Monroe County Sheriff's Office Col. Lou Caputo spoke at the Keys Jewish Community Center during its Tree of Life Memorial Service. Caputo said the sense of community in the Florida Keys is palpable.

TAVERNIER — Upper Keys residents poured into the Keys Jewish Community Center for a memorial service last Wednesday night for the 11 victims gunned down at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

KJCC Resident Scholar and Rabbi Richard Agler said the recent tragic event, which is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history, has invoked a need to heal and to become better united as a country.

“We are all Americans and we are all concerned with the well-being of our society and our community. That transcends beyond the Jewish community and has propelled us to do something,” he said before the memorial.

The targeted act of violence on the Pennsylvania synagogue wasn’t the first anti-Semitic attack against American Jews, nor should this tragedy diminish America’s pursuit of a better tomorrow, Agler said at the podium during the service.

“We will remain indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We will stand in solidarity in the face of despair,” he told the gathering of various faiths.

The service included a lighting of candles for each of the synagogue victims. Their names and ages were read aloud by Sam Vinicur and Gloria Avner, both Keys Jewish Community Center members.

“It was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen there,” Vinicur said afterward. “The local response was overwhelming.”

More than two rows of chairs were added to the Tavernier center’s seating, which still wasn’t enough for the overflow. More than 200 were in attendance.

It was the sheer number of people who attended the ceremony that proved that the Tree of Life massacre sits heavy on the hearts of many, Vinicur said.

“I know this isn’t utopia, but we as Americans have been working toward making a more perfect union,” he said.

Vinicur hopes the service was a first step down a longer path toward acceptance.

“We wanted to console our friends and in turn allow them to comfort us. This memorial may in some way restate goodwill and restart the momentum of being kind to others and being more accepting of each other,” he said. “The most repeated phrases in the Torah is about being kind to strangers. That night, everyone was us.”

He said the attendance of clergy members from neighboring churches was inspiring.

Avner said she found Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Col. Lou Caputo’s speech heartwarming.

Caputo addressed the crowd by saying that the Keys aren’t necessarily buffered from crime, but that we are all neighbors and a part of a special community. He said this becomes especially evident in times of duress. He finished by saying he’d like to see a similar community gathering in the future under happier circumstances.

Avner agrees.

“The hate somehow has to be transformed. We are the antidote to hatred. It was so moving to see so many people from the community. It filled my heart,” she said.

The KJCC welcomes goodwill people of all religious denominations to its Shabbat services at 7:30 p.m. each Friday. The KJCC is located at mile marker 93.1, oceanside. For more information, call 305-852-5235 or visit keysjewishcenter.com.

tjava@keysnews.com