(October 25, 2019 / JNS) Almost a year since the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Jewish community has continued to offer reflections on the deadliest attack in American Jewish history.
“We observe on Sunday the anniversary of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history, in which 11 innocent people were murdered simply because they were Jews,” said the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in a statement. “We mourn the lives lost and the senseless carnage wrought one year ago. We stand in solidarity with the family and friends of those killed and injured, and the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community.”
“This tragedy ended the age of innocence for American Jewry. It can no longer be said that we are immune to the pandemic of anti-Semitism,” the statement continued. “We must learn from this tragedy and work to prevent further occurrences. Security at all communal institutions including synagogues, schools and centers must be enhanced while we maintain them as inviting and open facilities.”
The organization added, “As we mark this solemn occasion, words and condolences are not enough. There must be action from all sectors of government and society. Jews and non-Jews alike must unite against anti-Semitism in all its forms, at home and abroad, if the increasingly urgent threat of global Jew-hatred is to be confronted.”
B’nai B’rith International has raised money for its Pittsburgh Healing Fund and will be distributing the funds towards mental-health support for survivors and a program to assist first responders, including organizations such as the Jewish Family and Children Services of Pittsburgh.
The B’nai B’rith fund will also support a program to assist first responders.
“All Americans, including American Jews, have the right to expect our centers of worship to be safe havens where we can connect at once with our fellow faithful and the Divine,” said the Simon Wiesenthal Center in a statement. “It brings us great sadness that after that terrible day, so many Jews no longer feel safe in these precious and sacred gathering places.”
“Things have gotten worse, not better, since Pittsburgh. We will continue to fight this rising tide, partnering with our allies in law enforcement, education, the clergy and government,” continued SWC. “But what is most needed is the involvement of good-hearted people in every city, town, church and school who recognize the manifestations of anti-Semitism, both obvious and subtle, and are willing to speak up and say: No, not here, not with our children, not in our community.”
Responding to calls for more safety provisions, Pennsylvania state lawmakers included $3.2 million in funding and expanded safety opportunities for at-risk schools in the FY 2019-20 budget. Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to fund security personnel at nonpublic schools through the Safe Schools Targeted Grant Program and now, nearly five years later, the Commonwealth has expanded safety provisions to include security equipment and programs grants.
The police officers who were wounded in the shooting, who have since been back at work, have expressed appreciation to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community for its support.
’We need to stop violence using every tool possible’
“It’s difficult to believe a year as passed since the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue,” Gov. Tom Wolf told JNS. “I’ve carried sorrow for the victims, their families and the community as I sought to understand why this heinous attack occurred and how we can prevent anything like it from ever occurring again.”
Wolf honored the shooting’s victims last month while visiting Auschwitz in Poland, where he wrote their names in the memorial site’s guestbook. He also went to the Holocaust memorial in the Lithuanian town of Paneriai, where 70,000 Jews were killed. At each site, the governor carried the mezuzah that was on the office door of Tree of Life rabbi Jeffrey Myers.
The ornate mezuzah snapped when police broke down the door of the synagogue in their rescue efforts and to stop the suspect, Robert Bowers. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against him.
Wolf has signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 27 as an official day of remembrance, ordering state flags to half-staff one year after the attack. While state flags will be at half-staff, the U.S. flag will remain at full-staff.
“The shooting at Tree of Life synagogue revealed hate here in Pennsylvania. We need to do everything we can to stop it before it grows,” said Wolf. “We need to work together to prevent Pennsylvanians from being attacked due to bigotry, and we need to stop violence using every tool possible. That includes everything from programs supporting tolerance to legislation preventing future shootings.”
The synagogue has announced that it will reopen and continue to use the building as a place of worship. It will also utilize the space for classrooms, exhibits, social events and include a memorial to commemorate the lives lost in the mass shooting.
A date for the reopening has yet to be set. The building has not been in use since the shooting.
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