Denver-area Jews mourn, seek to help massacre victims

Thousands gather outside the Aurora Municipal Center in COlorado to remember the victims of the theater shooting, July 22, 2012. (wscottbloyer/Twitter)

(JTA) — As Colorado and the nation tried to absorb the tragic massacre in a suburban Denver movie theater, local synagogues conducted special prayers and the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado launched a response fund for the victims and their families.

Early Friday morning, James Eagen Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora presenting a midnight showing of the new “Batman” movie, “Dark Knight Rises,” and shot to death 12 people, wounding 58 others. Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl.

Holmes, 24, appeared in court Monday for arraignment on murder charges. He reportedly worked one year at a summer camp operated by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. He is not Jewish.

Doug Seserman, president and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, said a fund for the victims would be launched by Wednesday. The federation also is planning a blood drive at the Bonfils Blood Center, the main facility for blood donations in Denver, he said.

“As Jews, especially with our relationship with Israel, we understand terrorism very directly, and this is a way for us to show others that we understand the tragic nature of this event and want to do whatever we can to help provide some level of comfort,” Seserman told JTA.

Seserman said that after the state’s recent wildfires, the federation received about 500 donations worth about $75,000, He said 25 percent of the money came from outside the state.

“We now know that we will have the same kind of support from the Jewish world,” Seserman said. “We as a Jewish community mobilize well in times of crisis whether it is a war in Israel, Hurricane Katrina or a tsunami in Southeast Asia or a wildfire in Colorado. We have this demonstrated ability to mobilize in times of crisis, and here is another one we face and will overcome.”

Rabbi Bruce Dollin, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and senior rabbi at the Congregation Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, said that on Shabbat many area congregations recited prayers for the victims.

“It was an incredible shocking and stunning tragedy,” he said. “Everyone in the Jewish community is feeling like the rest of the community; we can’t believe it happened. Life is so fragile and can end in a split second.”

On Sunday, Congregation Beth haMedrosh Hagagdol-Beth Joseph, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Denver, plans a moment of silence for the victims to coincide with the observance of Tisha b’Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar associated with some of Jewish history’s greatest calamities.

“The message of Tisha B’av is that despite all the tragedies, the persecutions, despite all the suffering we still look forward to a brighter future and a better tomorrow,” said Rabbi Ben Greenberg, the congregation’s spiritual leader. “We see that there can be a future despite all the darkness.”

Ruth Cohen, executive director of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation, said that in addition to having a discussion about the massacre on Friday night, parents were handed a sheet on how to speak about the incident with their younger children.

“It was emotional,” Cohen said. “There was also the bombing of the Israeli tourists and this hit home for me. I have kids who certainly have gone out to midnight movies.”

Dollin said that many people are participating in communitywide events such as donating to blood banks or attending vigils.

“I don’t think we’ve come together as a Jewish community, but as a general community,” Dollin said. “Many of us have gone to the same theater, and so we are feeling the connection to the general neighborhood. We are not just Jews here; we are fully members of our general community.”

Greenberg attended the prayer vigil Sunday at the Aurora Municipal Center to honor the victims of the massacre.

“It was really powerful to be with crowds of people directing their anxiety, frustration and confusion to God,” Greenberg said. “As a Jewish member of society and as a rabbi, it is critical to say that we hurt also and that the loss of a life of a 6-year-old child tears our heart as much as it tears anyone’s heart.”