Overflowing Support At Pueblo Synagogue For First Shabbat Service Since Word Of Foiled White Supremacist Attack

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Temple Emanuel
Hayley Sanchez/CPR News
Congregants and guests attend Shabbat at Temple Emanuel on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, a week after a foiled plot to attack the synagogue in Pueblo. The service was packed.

Handmade signs, flowers and candles adorned the entrance of Temple Emanuel in Pueblo Friday night, and the service was so crowded with members of the congregation — and supporters — that some attendees stood outside. 

Earlier this week, the FBI had intercepted a white supremacist’s plan to attack the synagogue.

Demonstrating support for the synagogue and its congregation, people lined up around the block of the building and you could hear them singing from inside the synagogue during regular Shabbat service. 

The message of the night: This is Pueblo and Pueblo is strong. 

Mike Atlas-Acuña, the president of Temple Emanuel’s board of directors, said the outpouring of support over the week has been very positive.

“It’s bringing the whole community together and I think that’s even greater,” he said. “We’ve been getting some awesome letters from other clergy in the community supporting us.”

Atlas-Acuña said other faith groups like Muslims, Catholics and Methodists have also shown the synagogue support

Temple Emanuel is located in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Pueblo and it’s the oldest Jewish house of worship in the city, at nearly 120 years old. It’s on the national and state register. 

The inside of the synagogue is small, holding almost 200 seats, but it’s stunning.

Stained glass windows line the outer walls, directing gatherers’ attention to the bimah, where the Torah is read.

One wall features wooden tree next to a plaque with 11 names etched into it -- a memorial plaque dedicated to the Tree Of Life synagogue, which was attacked a year ago in Pittsburgh

Temple Emanuel
Hayley Sanchez/CPR News
A memorial plaque photographed Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, inside Temple Emanuel. The memorial is dedicated to the Tree Of Life synagogue, which was attacked in October 2018 in Pittsburg. It’s a wooden tree and has the names of the 11 people who were killed in the shooting.

“The community supports itself and each other and this just made those connections even stronger,” said Rachel Becker, daughter of Rabbi Berdie Becker, who gave Shabbat Service Friday. 

Becker, who’s been attending Temple Emanuel for 15 years, said she wants outsiders to know the synagogue is welcoming and open to all, but the discrimination isn’t going away. 

“A lot of people in my group of friends who just don’t realize that this is still something that occurs, that antisemitism is on the rise.”

Catherine Kamke, secretary on Temple Emanuel’s board of directors, said she has dealt with her fair share of antisemitism. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor and her grandmother and step-grandfather were murdered in concentration camps. She was angered when she found out about the attacker’s bomb plot.

“It’s just a sense of frustration that this should be happening in a country where we’re all supposed to have freedom of religion and freedom to believe what we believe in,” she said. “This person did not respect that freedom that everybody has and people in this country should be very concerned and insulted by that behavior.”

Kamke said she is even more appreciative of the community and the synagogue now. 

Temple Emanuel’s congregation includes 35 families, and for congregants like Atlas-Acuña’s, their family has been part of the synagogue for generations.

“I looked at the building — the inside and I said, ‘God, we could have lost this,’ and that — then it kind of hit me,” Atlas-Acuña said, talking about what he thought returning to the temple after hearing about the foiled plot.

Temple Emanuel
Hayley Sanchez/CPR News
Congregants and guests attend Shabbat at Temple Emanuel on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, a week after a foiled plot to attack the synagogue in Pueblo. It was packed and Rabbi Berdie Becker and Mike Atlas-Acuña, the president of the synagogue's board of directors lead the service.

Kyla Garrison is his granddaughter. She said she’s been coming to Temple Emanuel her entire life and that’s not about to change.

“We’re not going to be afraid. We’re not going to stop doing what we’ve been doing for years,” she said. “It’d be cool to see people who’ve never come to a Jewish service or something to come and see what it’s actually about instead of being like, ‘We support you but we don’t know what we’re supporting.’” 

Susan Buckles of Pueblo visited the congregation during the service Friday.

“Pueblo is a very diverse city with people from all over the world living here. We were created from immigrants and it’s an accepting community so this was a surprise,” she said. “We need to make sure that hate doesn’t win out and everybody is accepted for who they are and how they believe.” 

Marc Schuman, the treasurer at Temple Emanuel, regularly travels to the synagogue from Peyton. He said when he first saw the temple, he knew it was the one he wanted to be part of. When he arrived to Shabbat Friday, he said he was overwhelmed by how many people there were.

“There are really no words,” he said. “Obviously it’s incredibly clear that Pueblo is an extremely embracing community… and what happened is not Pueblo.”