Denver-area Jews mourn, seek to help massacre victims

As Colorado and the nation tried to absorb the tragic massacre a week ago 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.

On July 20, James Eagen Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora presenting a midnight showing of the new “Batman” movie and shot to death 12 people, wounding 58 others. Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl.

Holmes, 24, appeared in court July 23 for arraignment on murder charges.

Holmes, who was raised in the San Diego area, spent a summer working as a counselor for Camp Max Straus in Glendale, which is run by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reported. He is not Jewish.

People light candles at a memorial for the shooting victims in Aurora, Colo., July 22. photo/ap-ed andrieski

Doug Seserman, president and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, said a fund for the victims would be launched imminently. The federation also was encouraging people to donate blood at the Bonfils Blood Center, the main facility for 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 said.

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.

On Sunday, July 29, Congregation Beth HaMedrosh Hagadol-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.

Ruth Cohen, executive director of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation, said that in addition to having a discussion about the massacre on July 20, parents were handed a sheet on how to speak about it with their younger children.

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

Greenberg attended the prayer vigil July 22 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.”