Everett’s Temple Beth Or welcomed Rabbi Rachel Kort this summer. With a public vigil planned for Thursday, the rabbi talks about how her synagogue is responding to the weekend killings in Pittsburgh. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Everett’s Temple Beth Or welcomed Rabbi Rachel Kort this summer. With a public vigil planned for Thursday, the rabbi talks about how her synagogue is responding to the weekend killings in Pittsburgh. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Jewish community and neighbors to take a stand against hate

Faith groups are planning a vigil at the Snohomish County campus in remembrance of Pittsburgh victims.

Rabbi Rachel Kort, who arrived at Everett’s Temple Beth Or this summer, wishes her introduction to the wider community could have been different.

Rather than a joyful occasion, she’ll speak at a Thursday night vigil in response to the shooting rampage that killed 11 Jewish people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The downtown Everett vigil is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Robert J. Drewel Administration Building on the Snohomish County campus.

“I wish I didn’t have to hold onto the weight of grief for the community,” said Kort, who came in July to lead Everett’s Reform Judaism congregation. Raised in north Seattle, she previously served at a temple in Orange County, California.

In a heartfelt show of support at the Everett temple Monday, about 20 people from local faith groups and other organizations gathered to plan the vigil. Along with Kort, speakers Thursday will include Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat representing Washington’s 2nd Congressional District.

More than a remembrance of the 11 slain at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, the event is intended to show this community’s embrace of Jewish people here and other historically targeted groups, and to champion religious and cultural diversity.

“Even in the midst of this tragedy, this will be good for our community. It’s important,” said the Rev. Carol Jensen, a retired Lutheran pastor who took the lead in vigil planning.

Along with Jensen, organizers at Temple Beth Or on Monday included Jim Dean, of the Interfaith Association of Northwest Washington; Alessandra Durham, a senior analyst with the county executive’s office; the Rev. David Parks, lead pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Everett; Ben Young, who is involved with the NAACP Snohomish County Branch; and others involved in faith and diversity efforts.

Kort said that while the attack in Pittsburgh increased safety concerns among Jewish people nationwide, there’s a greater need to speak out against hate.

“All of our Jewish communities right now are feeling that inherent nature of wanting to isolate ourselves. It’s bringing up feelings of mistrust,” she said. “But at the same time, we know we have a religious mandate to be open.”

That means standing up for others targeted by white-supremacists’ slurs, violence and government policies aimed at curbing immigration and human rights.

“Our Jewish community not only sees this as an attack on Jews, but also an attack on all communities in our country who feel marginalized and at risk — our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, our black brothers and sisters, our brothers and sisters who are immigrants and refugees,” Kort said.

One reported reason the Pittsburgh synagogue was targeted was its support of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS, which Kort said was founded in 1881 by Jewish refugees. “We were once strangers in a strange land,” she said.

Married and the mother of a preschool-age daughter, the 37-year-old rabbi has a bachelor’s degree in Jewish history from New York University and masters degrees in Hebrew literature and religious education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she was ordained.

Violence against those of her faith has hit much closer to home. In the summer of 2006, a gunman shot six women, killing one, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

At the time, Kort was a chaplaincy intern at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. She was on call, and the first to meet victims’ families. “They were coming into the emergency room not knowing if their loved ones were alive or not,” Kort said.

Temple Beth Or, which serves 120 families, has been in contact with the Everett Police Department, and has been offered extra patrols.

Among the temple’s priorities, Kort said, is supporting partner organizations, including Everett’s Interfaith family shelter. The temple also has a relationship with the Faith Action Network, a statewide interfaith partnership.

Kort wants the community to be aware of what she said has been an alarming rise in hateful actions aimed at Jewish people. In its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the Anti-Defamation League found that the number rose 57 percent in 2017 over the previous year.

In Lynnwood, Rabbi Berel Paltiel of the Chabad Jewish Center of Snohomish County sent a message — signed “With pain and love” — to its members late Saturday. “We are shocked and heartbroken by the horrific attack on our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh,” he wrote. “This is an attack on all of us.” Paltiel said the center had been in contact with Lynnwood police, and that patrols had been increased nearby.

As a “child of the Northwest,” Kort said she sees this as a place “that celebrates the beautiful diversity in our community.”

“I think people want to come together and show their support,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Vigil Thursday

A public vigil in response to the killings of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday on the first floor of the Robert J. Drewel Administration Building, public meeting rooms 1 and 2, on the Snohomish County campus, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett. Event concludes with outdoor candlelight observance. Bring a candle if possible.

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