February 20, 2019

Jewish World Reacts to the ‘Deadliest Attack on the Jewish Community’

At least 11 people were killed and 10 others were injured at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning during a bris, according to Curt Conrad, chief of staff for Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor.

According to NBC News, the alleged gunman has been identified 46-year-old Robert Bowers, who was shot at least once by police during the exchange of gunfire at the synagogue. He was taken to the hospital and is undergoing treatment.

The Times of Israel reports that Bowers had an account on the far-right social media platform Gab, where his profile read: “Jews are the children of the Satan.” He also railed against HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society], a nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid to immigrants and refugees.

Bowers also reportedly shouted “All Jews must die!” during the shooting.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, “It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.”

“Our hearts break for the families of those killed and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh,” Greenblatt said. “We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. We are actively engaged with law enforcement to support their investigation and call on authorities to investigate this as a hate crime.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center released this statement:

“We are sickened by this horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s historic Jewish neighborhood. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the dead and injured as well as the rest of the congregation and Jewish community.”

“We urge President Trump to immediately convene an emergency meeting of religious leaders to help stop the slide to extremism in American Society,“ said Rabbi Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, Dean and Founder and Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action said in a statement released Saturday night in Austria, Vienna.

“Americans need and want leadership from both sides of the political aisle to stop the continuous slide to the brink. The President should also immediately convene a cross section of faith leaders to help turn the tide against hate and extremism.

“This Wednesday the SWC will release a national poll that shows a plurality of Americans believe the US is headed to a Civil War,” the rabbis concluded.

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) issued the following statement:

“Once again, a vicious act of malice has transformed a place of worship into a crime scene. While federal officials work with local and state law enforcement to investigate this tragedy, what we do know is clear: This was a hate crime of horrific proportions.

“Antisemitism has no place in our society. If we fail to commit in fighting against such hatred together, I fear it will continue to plague our country and lead to more senseless killings like what we saw this morning in Pittsburgh.

“Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Tree of Life Synagogue community. May their memories be a blessing to all.”

The Union for Reform Judaism also issued the following statement:

The slaughter of our brothers and sisters praying in their holy synagogue this Shabbat in Pittsburgh breaks our collective heart.

The murders took place during a prayer service in the Tree of Life congregation where, like synagogues all around the world, they were reading from Genesis recounting how Abraham welcomed perfect strangers into his tent. How painful and ironic that we live in a time when we have to temper our loving welcome of strangers as we protect our communities from violence and hate.

There is much which is unknown about today’s horrific killings. We will learn more over the next hours and days. We will continue to work with our nation’s synagogues and other houses of worship and law enforcement to enhance security and provide effective protections for our communities – and our nation.

This time the Jewish community was targeted, in what may be the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. Other times it has been African-Americans. Or Sikhs. Or Muslims. Or members of the LGBTQ community. Or too many others. What we know is this: the fabric holding our nation together is fraying. It is our task to ensure that it does not come apart.

Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks said in a letter to their congregants that they plan on beefing up their security in response to the shooting:

This morning we were shocked and saddened to learn of a mass shooting during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. In response, we have taken immediate steps to increase the security presence on our campus.
We are monitoring national and local law enforcement communications; at this time there are no known threats to our community. We continue to work with law enforcement to evaluate and ensure we have adequate security measures in place on our campus.
We mourn this horrific shooting and stand with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh during this traumatic time.
Our hearts go out to the all those who have been affected by this senseless act of terror. May the memory of these innocent victims be a blessing.
The Israeli-American Council released this statement:
The Israeli-American Council is horrified by the tragic news this morning of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where innocent people were murdered in cold blood and others were injured, including numerous police officers. 

Our community mourns the loss of our brothers and sisters who were savagely killed on a Shabbat morning simply because they were Jews, and as they were praying together and celebrating the arrival of a newborn to the community. Our prayers go out to the fallen loved ones and to the injured. 

Today’s events are yet another reminder that the age-old evil of anti-Semitism remains a uniquely dangerous and destructive force in our world. Slaughtering Jews whether they are worshipping at a synagogue in Pittsburg, shopping at a Kosher supermarket in Paris, or walking on the streets of Jerusalem is just the extreme manifestation of this ongoing scourge. We must remain united and vigilant against this heinous evil and fight it wherever it rears its ugly head. 

We are all one Jewish family. At difficult moments like this, Jews of all denominations and political leanings must come together to provide comfort, healing, and strength to each other. The IAC is committed to lead these efforts in our communities from coast to coast. We will continue our fight against hate and anti-Semitism. 

We thank the law enforcement community that rushed to the synagogue and stopped this horrific attack.  

Baruch Dayan Emet. May the memory of the fallen be for the blessing. 

The Israel Project noted the recent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in a statement:
The Israel Project condemns the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mourns the loss of life, and expresses our support for the victims and their families at this difficult time. The attack was clearly motivated by anti-Semitism – a growing trend in the U.S. that can no longer be ignored or explained away.

According to the ADL, 2017 saw a 60% increase in acts of assault, harassment, and vandalism against Jews and Jewish institutions. In 2018, there are more people running for elected office in this country, who espouse anti-Semitic views, than ever before.  FBI statistics show over 50% of religious Hate Crimes are attacks on American Jews. These are shocking developments and our community needs to begin a serious dialogue about how to respond effectively. 

Joshua S. Block, CEO & President of The Israel Project said: “Today is a very sad day for all of America. Targeting people on the basis of religious and cultural identities goes against everything we stand for as Americans and as a country. These tragic events underscore the importance of safeguarding our cherished democratic freedoms. Fighting anti-Semitism is not the responsibility of the Jewish community alone. Fighting anti-Semitism is a responsibility for society at large.”

President Donald Trump in a statement told CNN, “If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him… When people do this, they should get the death penalty,” he said. “Anybody that does a thing like this to innocent people that are in temple or in church … they should be suffering the ultimate price, they should pay the ultimate price.”

More to come…

UPDATE: Amanda Susskind, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Los Angeles Regional Director, told the Journal that the ADL isn’t aware of any current threats in the Los Angeles area but they are on “higher alert.”

“The [LAPD] chief and the [L.A. County] sheriff are good about getting more attention to the Jewish community, especially on Shabbat [and] I think there has been an amped up level of security today,” Susskind said.

Masa Israel Journey shared with the Journal the following statement regarding today’s shooting:

“On behalf of the Masa Israel Journey professional team, participants, and alumni from around the world, I want to express my horror and strongest condemnation of the heinous crime committed this Shabbat morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where it is reported that several worshippers were shot and killed with more injured, including police officers.

Media reports suggest that the evil man responsible for this crime murdered the people in this synagogue simply because they were Jewish. Anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred, but it is all too present in our world today, targeting Jews in America, Israel, and all around the world. We must fight this evil in all of its forms.

As Shabbat goes out tonight, the Masa family’s thoughts and prayers will be with the victims and their families. We grieve with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. At this moment of grief and tragedy, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters all around the world.”