SALT LAKE CITY — When Rabbi Benny Zippel heard news of the massacre Saturday in a Pittsburgh synagogue, he says his first thought was of his son, a rabbinical student interning at a school in Pennsylvania.
"On Shabbat, when it's Saturday, we're forbidden to use the telephone or computer or internet, so I had to wait several hours until Saturday night until I called him," the executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah said.
He said he asked his son, "Are you okay? How far from you was it?"
"And he said to me, 'under one mile.' … Imagine if the perpetrator had chosen a different target. It could've been him. It could've been us. It could've been Salt Lake City," Rabbi Zippel said to hundreds gathered inside and outside the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center on Monday evening.
"We were granted another day of life. Let us not waste it," he said.
State, local and faith leaders, members of the Jewish community and other supporters met for a candlelit vigil at the Salt Lake synagogue to pray for peace and for those lost in the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
On Saturday, a gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people. Six others were injured, including four police officers who had rushed to the scene.
The alleged gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, made his first appearance in court on federal and state murder and homicide charges.
"It left me speechless. … Yesterday, when the identities of the victims were released, and I learned of 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, who made it through the horrors of Nazi Germany to be killed in a synagogue in the United States in 2018, again, I was speechless," said Rabbi Avremi Zippel, Rabbi Benny Zippel's son.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who spoke briefly during the somber vigil, said the people of Pittsburgh hold a special place in his heart, as he served time during his Latter-day Saint mission there.
"I know the heart of the people and the goodness of the people there. And as a steel town, really, it kind of symbolizes their toughness," he said.
The governor said the Beehive State is "great friends" with the Jewish community throughout the world. "We share a lot of things in common," Herbert said.
"I think we are all devastated by the tragic shooting that took place there, the open bigotry, the hatred that was shown there. The senseless violence that's been on display there. … Hatred and violence, I think all of us agree, has no place in this country. Period. Certainly not in our places of worship."
When Hilda Isaacson learned of the shooting, she said she thought, "Another terrible killing."
"It's a horrible thing. It particularly touches me because I'm Jewish. But I have been hurt by the things that have happened in the schools, with children who are innocent also," Isaacson told the Deseret News.
"If there's any place that you feel like you should be safe, it's in the house of God," she added.
Isaacson's daughter, Anne Ruth Isaacson, said she was picking her mother up to attend synagogue when they heard the "very upsetting" news of the shooting.
"My mother is 91, so she was alive during the Holocaust," she said, adding that her father fought for the U.S. during World War II.
But when the mother and daughter arrived at the synagogue after hearing the news, Anne Ruth Isaacson said, "There's a lot of wisdom that we get here, comfort, and it's the right place to be."
During the vigil, faith and state leaders read Psalms and Rabbi Benny Zippel raised his voice in songs of prayer. Holocaust survivor Abe Katz lit 11 candles for those who were killed, with the help of Rabbi Avremi Zippel.
As the vigil ended, the elder Rabbi Zippel asked those in attendance to fight darkness with light by doing good for others.
Afterward, as the crowd flowed out of the building, Patrick Fairchild, a member of the synagogue, said, "It was really nice seeing the turnout from everybody. I saw everybody from across the board. Everybody from the neighborhood," adding that the community is "stronger together."
The event was sponsored by Chabad Lubavitch of Utah but had interfaith co-sponsors from a number of other churches, including Calvary Baptist Church of Salt Lake, Catholic Community Services, Centenary United Methodist Church, the Utah Islamic Center, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, among others.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement Monday to express "our deepest grief and solidarity with our Jewish friends around the world" after the shooting.
"When the security and religious freedom of our Jewish brothers and sisters is violated, we all suffer. Houses of worship should be safe, inviolate places for people of all faiths to join in sacred fellowship and seek communion with God.
"We condemn the environment of hate-filled rhetoric that has become so prevalent. Anti-Semitism has no place in our society. It is the responsibility of good people everywhere to speak out and stand up for each other's rights to worship and live peacefully," church officials said.
On Friday, while in Uruguay, President Russell M. Nelson condemned religious violence and told the Deseret News that members of the church "need to work together to stem the tide of violence."Comment on this story
"Hatred, violence, murder: All are against the teachings of the Lord," President Nelson said. He also called mass shootings "a great offense to God."
Herbert on Monday ordered flags be flown at half-staff at state facilities and public grounds from sunrise until sunset through Wednesday. He encouraged businesses and residents to do the same.
A vigil was also held Monday evening in Park City. Another vigil is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Congregation Kol Ami, 2425 Heritage Way, in Salt Lake City.