Congregants of the Tree of Life synagogue peacefully welcomed the Sabbath on Saturday morning when Robert Bowers, armed with at least three handguns and an AR-15, burst into the temple. The aftermath of the malicious attack and intense shootout left 11 Jewish congregants dead and six police wounded. According to the Anti-Defamation League, this assault is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history.
In Judaism, it is believed that a death is the destruction of a world. Eleven is the destruction of a universe. If such a catastrophe is heart-wrenching for Americans thousands of miles from Pittsburgh, then the grief of the families and friends of each victim is unfathomable.
It is difficult to quell my anger when I think about what Bowers did. The Sabbath is a day of rest, of vulnerability, of connection to G-d. The fact that anyone would take advantage of the observance of that precious day is despicable.
Last year, I celebrated the end of the Sabbath in New York’s Time Square and was weary of participating with a huge crowd of Jews in such a public space. I was terrified that someone would attempt to bomb us. Such fear should not exist. No one should ever feel as if their life is in danger when practicing their own religion, especially in their own temple of worship, where you are supposed to feel safe in your spiritual home surrounded by your spiritual family.
This feeling of anger leads us to want to attach blame to people that have nothing to do with the isolated incident. For example, right and left-winged groups alike blame political leaders and their agendas. Democrats blame Trump’s advocacy of gun rights, and Republicans blame Democrats’ support of gun control.
The real tragedy, though, is that both sides of the political spectrum are using the gruesome attack to their advantage. They twist the outcome in their favor by bending the victims’ stories to fit their own. But, at least right now, we cannot ascribe politics to a crime that stole so many lives. Doing so at this point would be a violation of our own humanity. We need to give each other strength and grapple with the emotions of the tragedy without applying politics.
Political spokesmen have specifically mentioned gun rights and the ‘what if’s’ attached to them. What if a licensed gun owner was carrying at the time of the shooting? What if an armed guard was present? The truth is that it is not feasible for every religious institution in the country to employ armed guards at its entrances. The Pittsburgh shooting is an isolated event and should be treated as such.
According to CBS News, hate crimes have increased in most major cities, with Jews suffering the highest percentage of any group. As you read this article and think about the Pittsburgh shooting, please keep in mind each victim individually. The ages of the 11 deceased range from 54 to 97:
‣ David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill
‣ Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill
‣ Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township
‣ Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough
‣ Irving Younger, 69, of Mount Washington, City of Pittsburgh
‣ Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill
‣ Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland, City of Pittsburgh
‣ Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg
‣ Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg
‣ Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill
‣ Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill
My prayers and thoughts are with everyone involved.