Local Jewish community mourns loss of ‘family’

"I didn't know them. I didn't have to know them."

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Communities continue to mourn the 11 lives lost in shootings in Pittsburgh over the weekend. Members of the Jewish Community in Rapid City say it’s like losing family.

Synagogue of the Hills President Steven Benn says the act of hate witnessed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh is something that can happen anywhere.

Benn was numb to hearing of another mass shooting. Then he learned the dead were those who shared his beliefs and died for practicing those beliefs.

“This was targeted because they were Jews, because of what they believed in,” said Benn, “because of what they identified with – the Jewish faith. It sends chills up my spine.”

Benn grew up hearing stories about the devastation of the Holocaust and still says he’s glad his relatives didn’t have to witness today’s events.

“It was something they assured me, that we were lucky to live in a country like America.”

Our country just experienced what is thought to be the worst attack on Jewish people in U.S. history.

“These are hate crimes. Pure and simple.”

Crimes against what he considers his family.

Steve Benn wearing a black ribbon as a sign of loss for the 11 lives lost in Pittsburgh.

“These people are mishbacha; they’re family,” he said. “They’re as if they were neighbors. And we see that every time a tourist comes through town, passes through those doors and shares a Shabbat with us.”

When it comes to a fix, Benn says the answer is not simple, and hate isn’t going anywhere.

“We’re not an African American country, we’re not a Jewish country, Latino country, Muslim,” said Benn. “We are Americans and we seem to have fallen from that message.”

Now the community, trying to put hate aside, moves forward. But in what direction?

“This week’s Parshah, or section from the Torah, we read about welcoming the stranger, opening our tents,” said Benn. “How ironic is it to think about how to close our tents and how to become more defensive?”

He describes a trip to France in which he was turned away from his place of worship due to security reasons.

“We were strangers; we were not recognized, and although I recited a prayer in Hebrew, I wasn’t on their visitor list. Let me tell you how that feels to be turned away from your house of worship because of security reasons.”

Benn says it is 21st century America, and they will do what they have to do to stay safe.

“If we can’t get worked up and our conscience heightened by the slaughter of elementary school children, what will it take? What will it take?”

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News