Saturday morning marked the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States, when a gunman entered a sacred place in Pittsburgh and opened fire. Few minutes after Rabbi Jeffrey Myers started the Shabbat morning services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill neighbourhood, the deadly grisly shooting began.
Reports revealed that a total of 11 people died in the attacks, while six — including four police officers — were wounded. The suspect was identified as a 48-year-old “white man”, Robert Bowers, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic messages on social media.
It was also reported that he was armed with three Glock 57 handguns, along with an AR-15 assault rifle.The suspect got arrested at 11:00 a.m., after getting multiple injuries in the shootout with police. Besides, 29 charges have been filed against him, and it is likely that he could face the death penalty, if convicted.
The horrific attacks left the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community in grief. Bill Peduto, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, termed the mass murder was as the city’s “darkest hour,” and also exhorting mourners to “defeat hate with love.”
He also said, “But here’s another thing about Pittsburgh. We are resilient. We will work together as one. We will defeat hate with love. We will be a city of compassion and we will be welcoming to all people.”
On Sunday, around 2,500 mourners gathered at a memorial service, which lasted for about two hours. The political and religious leaders came together to fortify the bonds that tie the community. They all gathered at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum.
Initially, people arrived at a steady stream and then came in a torrent, filling every seat in the hall, occupying the orchestra, balcony, standing room and even the foyer. Besides, around 1,500 attended the ceremony from outside the building, standing in the rain. Members of the Tree of Life congregations seated at the front, in a section confined by rope.
Addressing hundreds of mourners who gathered at the vigil in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Ron Simons noted that “the love is so overwhelming, it’s actually flowing out.”
Rabbi Jaffrey informed that there were 11 congregants with him in the sanctuary, and he had rushed to help pull a few people in the front rows out of the room.
He said that unfortunately, he couldn’t save them all, as he had “eight people in the back.” He also said, “Seven of my congregants were shot dead in my sanctuary. My holy place has been defiled.”
In his opening remarks, the United Jewish Federation president Jeffrey Finkelstein said, “After a raging anti-Semite shot up a holy place of worship on our Shabbat and murdered our extended Pittsburgh Jewish family, we needed to be here because at times like these, we need community. We need the comfort of each other. We need love, not hate, and we need that giant hug that this Pittsburgh Jewish community always gives.”
The primary message that Myers and others delivered was one of healing and resolve, through the anger and grief. Myers also vowed, “We will rebuild.” He spoke of the messages received from the practitioners of all faiths from across the world.
He said, “My cup overflows with love. That’s how you defeat hate.”
Another congregation that worshiped at Tree of Life, RabbiCheryl Klein of DorHadash also lamented the loss of her fallen congregant Jerry Rabinowitz.
In a breaking voice, she said, “We will grieve at DorHadash for a long time. We will pray for those clinging to life. And with your support, love and friendship, we will continue to do the work of our people.”
The mayor also took a firm tone on hate speech, and said, “Anti-Semitism isn’t even remotely a thought within this city’s borders. We will drive anti-Semitism and the hate of any people back to the basement, on their computer, and away from the open discussions and dialogues around the city, around the state and around this country.”
Pittsburgh and the Jewish community is definitely setting a great example for people of the world. Despite undergoing one of the deadliest killings in the nation’s history and dealing with the grief, the city has been sending a strong message across the globe.