SOUTH PORTLAND — An overflow crowd estimated at 1,500 people filled the Congregation Bet Ha’am synagogue in South Portland on Tuesday evening for a vigil to commemorate the lives of the 11 people who were gunned down Saturday morning at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Sally Bowden-Shaible, right, and Roberta Zuckerman hug at the vigil Tuesday night. Sen. Angus King and his wife also attended, as did city leaders from Portland and South Portland, and Bishop Robert Deeley.

Speakers said the outpouring of love and compassion for the victims represented a powerful display of the goodness in people that continues to shine despite the hate-filled rhetoric and acts of violence that have darkened the country’s mood in recent weeks and months.

President Trump wasn’t mentioned by name but several of the speakers made reference to the nation’s political climate.

Loud murmurs of assent could be heard when Rabbi Jared H. Saks of the Congregation Bet Ha’am said the country needs to “elect leaders who actually care about people’s lives.”

He also told the crowd to “let our grief galvanize us and our mourning motivate us.”

The event, which started at 5:30 p.m., caused a rush-hour traffic jam in the Thornton Heights neighborhood and sent drivers scrambling to find parking spaces on streets near the synagogue. The event originally had been scheduled for the Jewish Community Alliance on Congress Street in Portland, but was moved to Congregation Bet Ha’am to accommodate a larger crowd.


Sen. Angus King and his wife, Mary Herman, attended the vigil, as did members of the Portland and South Portland City Councils. Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland spoke and offered his condolences.

“It would have been so much easier to stay home tonight, but we are stronger together,” South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen said. She and other speakers encouraged the crowd to stand up to hate and intolerance in their communities.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling never mentioned Trump by name, but told the crowd that when a “certain presidential candidate” came to Portland in 2016 and blamed crime on the immigrant community, that community stood on the steps of Portland City Hall the next day and protested.

People who couldn’t get into the synagogue listen to the speakers from an outdoor patio area near a reflecting pool. Molly Curren Rowles of the Jewish Community Alliance called the response to the vigil “remarkable.”

And when the Trump administration tried to ban Muslims from entering the country, Strimling said the Greater Portland community stood up again and protested. Strimling praised the crowd for showing that they won’t succumb to hate.

“Today we are making it clear that we won’t tolerate intolerance,” Strimling said.

Guest speakers also lit candles for the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre, reciting their names, ages and accomplishments.


Brothers Cecil, 59, and David, 54, Rosenthal, who were both developmentally disabled, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, and Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, were among the victims who were mentioned at the South Portland vigil. They were gunned down by Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver, police said.

Molly Curren Rowles, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance, called the response to the community vigil “remarkable.”

The main hall, which can seat more than 600 people, was standing room only long before the vigil began. Rowles said the large crowd prompted synagogue leaders to open the doors to an outdoor patio and reflection pool area where onlookers could stand or sit. People also sat in hallways and offices outside the meeting hall where they could listen to speakers.

Rabbi Jared Saks lights a candle in memory of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who was killed Saturday in the mass shooting at shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Candles were lit for all 11 people who were killed.

“Tonight, we have come together for strength and healing and to share the knowledge that we are not alone,” Rowles said, adding that these are “dark and troubling times” in the United States. Rowles thanked the crowd for bringing “light” to the vigil.

Portland City Councilor Pious Ali, a native of Ghana, expressed condolences on behalf of Portland’s Muslim community to those families in Pittsburgh who lost loved ones.

“The times we are in and the administration we have is one of the darkest periods in the history of our country,” Ali said.


Ali praised the crowd for coming. He said their presence brings light and hope for changing the direction of the country.

The Whitehead family of Gorham write notes of support to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh during a vigil at on Tuesday at Congregation Bet Ha’am. The Gormans (from left: Zoe, 7, mother Jennifer, Kai, 11, and Isaiah, 9), who attend LifeChurch — a Christian congregation in Gorham — went to the vigil to “show them love,” Jennifer Whitehead said.

Trump visited the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Tuesday despite pleas from Pittsburgh’s mayor and some Jewish leaders urging him to stay away. Some people believe that the Trump administration has emboldened white supremacists and fueled anti-Semitism with its rhetoric and policies.

Authorities have described Bowers, the gunman, as a white supremacist who developed a hatred for Jews and immigrants.

“Saturday’s crimes, committed during a holy day and in a sacred space, remind us of the virulence of anti-Semitism,” the Jewish Community Alliance said in a statement Monday announcing the vigil. “In the days and weeks to come, we welcome all members of our community, Jewish and non-Jewish, to join in solidarity to fight against anti-Semitism and all forms of bias, discrimination and hate.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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