JERSEY CITY — Twelve months and a global pandemic have in no way dulled the pain caused when two shooters opened fire at a cemetery and kosher supermarket last Dec. 10, killing four people including a city police officer.

But as easy as it may be right now to feel divided by the events of 2020, especially heading into the darkest, most isolating time of year, Rabbi Bronwen Mullin of Congregation B'Nai Jacob said the still-fresh memories of the massacre are cause for the community to come together.

She called the murders "violent, hateful" acts of anti-Semitism, but observed the victims came from disparate backgrounds, with regard to religion as well as vocation.

Both assailants were killed in a shootout with police at the kosher market.

"Anti-Semitism not only affects Jews and Jewish lives and Jewish communities, but it also took the life of Detective Joseph Seals," Rabbi Bronwen, as she is known, said. "This is someone who worked in the cease-fire unit. His work was getting illegal guns off the street."

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The other victims were Mindy Ferencz, 32, wife of the owner of the JC Kosher Supermarket; Moshe Deutsch, 24, a customer and rabbinical student; and Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49, a store employee.

"He risked his own life to open a back door so a customer could escape while he was being shot," Rabbi Bronwen said of Rodriguez, as she fought back tears. "Jewish tradition teaches us: To save one life is to save an entire world."

This past summer's national reckoning on police misconduct toward Black Americans drove home one particular point the rabbi said has been evident in Jersey City for a year: Systemic racism affects all of us.

Gov. Phil Murphy marked the Jersey City shootout in his coronavirus news briefing Wednesday, noting its one-year anniversary comes on the same day that Hanukkah begins this year, on Thursday night.

"It is my fervent hope that the light of the menorah also leads our work to seek out and remove hate, in all of its forms, from wherever it lurks," Murphy said.

That lighting of the first candle Thursday will serve a dual purpose for Congregation B'Nai Jacob, which is holding a memorial service for the massacre victims at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The synagogue's ceremony will follow several city-sanctioned events Thursday morning, plus a virtual discussion led by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

"It's really the light of these individuals, who they were and who they always will be to their families and their communities and now to us, that has really lit the way forward and has literally lit the path for us, for how we want to be in the world," Rabbi Bronwen said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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