Devastating news greeted us after the end of Shabbat. This morning, a murderous antisemite entered the Etz Chayim (Tree of Life) synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and opened fire on the congregants during a baby-naming ceremony, killing at least 10 (the numbers keep changing):
PITTSBURGH — Eight people were killed and at least six were injured in a shooting on Saturday at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, according to CBS Pittsburgh.
The gunman is said to have yelled “All Jews must die” as he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in the city and began firing during a baby naming ceremony, local media reported. He engaged in a shootout with responding police officers and barricaded himself inside the building before surrendering. He is said to have been injured, and reportedly crawled toward police.
He was armed with a rifle and two handguns, according to reports.
KDKA-TV, a local news station, said its sources identified the suspect as Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old white male. A law enforcement official later confirmed the suspect’s identity to the Associated Press, but could not elaborate further.
Bowers is said to have written anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant conspiracies on Gab, an alt-right social network similar to Twitter. His last reported message, hours before the shooting Saturday, read: “HIAS likes to bring invaders to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
HIAS, formerly Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is an American-Jewish nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees and immigrants.
Bowers’s Gab bio read: “Jews are the children of Satan.” The profile has since been taken down.
Michael Eisenberg, a former president of the Tree of Life Synagogue, told KDKA that there were approximately 50 people inside the synagogue.
“At 9:45 there were three simultaneous congregations’ services that were being held,” he told the news station. “In the main part of the building, The Tree of Life has a service that has about 40 people in it. Just below that there is a basement area where New Life congregation would have been having their Shabbat service. There would have been 30-40 people. Just adjacent to Tree of Light’s service area, a congregation was in the rabbi study room and they would have had approximately 15 people in there.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called the shooting an “absolute tragedy.”
“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life,” Wolf said. “But we have been saying “this one is too many” for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.”
US President Donald Trump tweeted that the attack was “far more devastating than originally thought.”
“It’s a very horrific crime scene, one of the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve been on some plane crashes,” Pittsburgh public safety director Wendell Hissrich told a news conference near the scene.
“This falls under hate crime,” he said, adding there was no active threat to the community and that the shooter had been taken to a hospital. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will lead the probe into the attack.
Jeff Finkelstein of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh told WPXI that organization’s security officer has notified all JCC synagogues and that they are on modified lockdown.
Finkelstein said local synagogues have done “lots of training on things like active shooters, and we’ve looked at hardening facilities as much as possible.”
“This should not be happening, period,” he told reporters at the scene. “This should not be happening in a synagogue.”
Michael Eisenberg, former president of the synagogue, told KDKA that police were normally only present at the synagogue for security on the High Holy Days.
“On a day like today, the door is open, it’s a religious service, you can walk in and out,” he said.
Reactions came in from around the world:
The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, wrote on her Twitter page that “America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and anti-Semite. All good Americans stand with the Jewish people to oppose acts of terror & share the horror, disgust & outrage over the massacre in Pittsburgh. We must unite against hatred & evil. God bless those affected.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called the shooting an “absolute tragedy.”
“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life,” Wolf said. “But we have been saying ‘this one is too many’ for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins said in separate statements on their Twitter pages that their “thoughts and prayers” are with all those affected by the shooting.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called the shooting “an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “This is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said, “I want to express our sadness and support to the American people.”
France is home to western Europe’s biggest Jewish population and many in the 400,000-strong community have complained for years of a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes.
In 2015, vandals desecrated 250 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France days after four Jews were killed in an attack on a kosher grocery in Paris.
Minister for Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett is on his way to Pittsburgh to provide support for the local Jewish community:
“When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain. All Israel are responsible for one another,” Bennett said.
The minister will visit the scene of the attack, meet the local community and participate in the funerals of those killed in the shooting.
“I am going to offer strength to the community and its leaders, and to examine how we can offer assistance,” he said.
Bennett directed the director general of the Diaspora Ministry to prepare to assist the Pittsburgh Jewish community. Among other things, the ministry is sending emergency and resilience teams that immediately left Israel for psychological assistance and community rehabilitation.
“The State of Israel is deeply pained by this terrible anti-Semitic murder. Our Jewish brothers and sisters came under a murderous attack while at prayer. Our hearts go out to the families of those killed, and we pray for the swift recovery of the injured, as we pray this is the last such event. Jewish blood is not free. May the memory of the murdered be blessed,” the minister concluded.
Israel’s leaders also expressed their sympathy and outrage at the shul massacre:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also offered support to the Tree of Life Congregation, saying he was “heartbroken and appalled by the murderous attack.”
“The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead. We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality. And we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded,” Netanyahu said.
President Reuven Rivlin also expressed sorrow at the horrible tragedy.“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the events in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” he said.
We are thinking of ’our brothers and sisters, the whole house of Israel, in this time of trouble,’ as we say in the morning prayers. We are thinking of the families of those who were murdered and praying for the quick recovery of those who were injured,” the president added.
“I am sure that the law enforcement agencies and the legal authorities in the US will investigate this horrific event thoroughly and that justice will be served on the despicable murderer,” he concluded.
This tweet expresses a lot of our shocked feelings:
British Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis expressed his sympathy and outrage:
People across the world stand united in grief this evening as details emerge of the horrific murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The Synagogue was named after the famous verse: “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it … and all of its paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3)
No amount of murderous hatred can weaken our grasp of that tree of life. The more hatred we face, the more relentless our pursuit of the paths of peace will be.
To the families so devastated by this unspeakable evil, may the Almighty comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
And since we are on the subject of Britain, how could we manage without a comment from an antisemitic politician? Here is the disgraced and disgraceful Liberal Democrat peer Jenny Tonge blaming *Israel* for the antisemitic assault on the synagogue:
Not to mention one Labour MP Chris Williamson:
Far better to close this terribly sad post with these words of unity:
May the families and friends of the victims of the synagogue attack be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion of Jerusalem. May their memories be blessed.
יהי זכרם ברוך. ברוך דיין אמת