(October 29, 2018 / JNS) The Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue community is apparently split regarding a potential visit on Tuesday by U.S. President Donald Trump after a gunman killed 11 people and injured six others, including four responding law-enforcement officers, during a brit milah (“baby naming”) at the Pittsburgh house of worship on Shabbat.
The gunman also targeted other services happening simultaneously inside the building, located in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.
“I think whether or not the president comes is a decision that should be made by those closest to the victims and the three congregations attacked,” Joel Mackler, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, told JNS.
A Jewish Squirrel Hill native, who requested anonymity for privacy reasons, told JNS that whether the president visits is not as big an issue compared to the need to appoint the State Department’s point person on issues related to anti-Semitism.
“Squirrel Hill is exemplary of a diverse and true community. Anti-Semitism predated this administration and will continue afterwards,” said the native. “President Trump should fill the special-envoy role to combat anti-Semitism while he visits in Pittsburgh.”
In September, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill by a vote of 393-2 that would elevate the State Department official who deals with the issue of anti-Semitism from envoy to ambassador. A Senate version is pending. Were the bill to become law, the president would be required to fill the position within 90 days.
“This would show the victims’ families and the community as a whole that the administration is taking action towards ensuring national policy implementation that will hopefully prevent future attacks and promote diversity in our country once again,” added the native.
“I do not welcome this president to my city,” Lynnette Lederman, a former synagogue president, told CNN on Monday morning.
The Pittsburgh affiliate of the left-wing organization Bend the Arc: Jewish Action echoed Lederman’s sentiment in an open letter to Trump.
“For the past three years, your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence,” it stated. “President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.”
Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said Trump should come. “The President of the United States is always welcome,” he told CNN. “I’m a citizen. He’s my president. He is certainly welcome.”
Another Jewish resident, who requested anonymity for privacy reasons, told JNS: “As long as he is coming to support the community and families, and not for a personal agenda, I have no problem with it.”
At a memorial service on Sunday night, Myers emphasized that “my words are not intended as political. My mother always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.”