Barb Sheinberg got a text message from her son Saturday morning that she didn’t understand at first.
“Did anybody in our family go to Tree of Life?” her son, who lives in Boston, asked.
“Why?” Sheinberg, who lives in Juneau, asked.
“Because something bad happened,” he said.
Sheinberg grew up in the Pittsburgh community of Squirrel Hill before eventually moving away in 1973. She ended up in Alaska in 1980 and has lived here ever since, but still goes back to her hometown regularly, she said.
She didn’t grow up going there, but she knew many who went to Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a temple that has been in headlines, hearts and minds since Saturday. That morning, a gunman entered Tree of Life and killed 11 people.
Memorial ceremonies have taken place from coast to coast, and Juneau’s Congregation Sukkat Shalom synagogue held its ceremony Tuesday night. The building was packed with people, including Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson.
Sheinberg was grateful to see Walker and Davidson there, she said.
“That’s a big statement,” Sheinberg said. “We really do all come together.”
People of all ages and backgrounds were in attendance Tuesday, from members of the congregation to people who had never been there before. One of the youngest participants in the service was 17-year-old Alana Paul.
When news of the shooting broke, Paul said she and a friend went to Cope Park, lit a candle and said the Mourner’s Kaddish — a recitation that is said to honor the death of a loved one — for the victims.
“When I first heard about it, I was devastated,” Paul said, “because nothing like this should ever happen for any religion, not just Judaism.”
Paul spoke at Tuesday’s service and led the group in a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims. Paul said she has spoken during worship services there, but this one was a little different with how large the crowd was.
It’s not the first time she’s been involved in a memorial gesture, as she and a friend requested to their principal that Juneau-Douglas High School hold a moment of silence this week in honor of the victims. On Monday morning, the school had a moment of silence.
Congregation Sukkat Shalom Board President Chava Lee said during the service that it’s important to remember why they were there. She spoke at length about the importance of words and rhetoric in hate crimes such as this shooting, and encouraged people to not stay silent.
“We cannot shy away from or ignore the elephant in the room that a senseless murder borne out of an irrational hatred that seems to be part of the new American mainstream is what has brought us here today,” Lee said.
Sheinberg admitted that she was a bit nervous about Tuesday’s ceremony due to the nature of the shooting. When she was talking with organizers of the service, she found herself asking whether there would be security there.
There did end up being a security presence, as three Juneau Police Department officers stood watch at the synagogue’s entrance. Gov. Walker also had his usual security escort. The security made Sheinberg feel at ease, she said, but she was still disturbed that she ended up asking about security measures.
“It just kind of freaked me out that I even felt to ask that,” Sheinberg said. “I’ve never asked that before in my life. I think coming to regular services here, I wouldn’t think twice about it, but a lot of people knew this was happening.”
Those in the building Tuesday weren’t the only ones thinking about the larger implications of the shooting. In Haines, Sue Libenson read news articles and watched vigils and protests on television. Libenson, who grew up going to Tree of Life before moving to Alaska, said that although she knows people in that community and feels a tight connection to it, she felt detached from it all at first.
“You see this unfolding in your neighborhood and you wonder what you can do from where you are,” Libenson said.
In an interview Wednesday, Libenson said she found out that U.S. Rep. Don Young is currently on the National Rifle Association’s Board of Directors. According to Young’s website, he was elected to a three-year term on the board in 1998. It’s unclear whether he continues to serve on the board. Young’s press secretary was not able to be reached for comment and the NRA public affairs office was not able to confirm whether Young was on the board.
She asked herself, how can Alaska’s national representative have an interest in the NRA while also being open honest in national discussions about assault weapons? Young is up for re-election, in a fairly close race with independent challenger Alyse Galvin.
Voting next Tuesday, Libenson decided, is her way to get involved.
“That’s one thing Alaskans can do,” Libenson said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.