'Deadliest Attack on Jewish Community in U.S. History': Jewish Leaders Lament Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

'It is unfathomable that in the United States of America, Jews or any one else should have to live in fear of being targeted simply because of who they are and where they choose to worship,' says World Jewish Congress president

SWAT police officers respond after a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018.
\ JOHN ALTDORFER/ REUTERS

Leaders across the Jewish world responded with shock and horror to the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday morning, in which ten people were killed.

Responding to the shooting, HIAS, a Jewish-American organization that helps refugees in the U.S. and around the world, said: “There are no words to express how devastated we are by the events in Pittsburgh this morning. This loss is our loss, and our thoughts are with Tree of Life Congregation, our local partner Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and all those affected by this senseless act of violence. As we try to process this horrifying tragedy, we pray that the American Jewish community and the country can find healing.”

HIAS was vilified on the alt-right social netowkr Gap by the suspected shooter, Robert Bowers, two hours before the attack.

>> Read more: White supremacist who hated Jewish 'infestation': What we know about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter ■ Rabbi of neighboring synagogue in Pittsburgh recounts moments of trauma after attack

The American Jewish Committee was a co-sponsor of the National Refugee Shabbat, the HIAS event derided in a social media post by the suspect in the massacre.

“The sanctity of the Sabbath was shattered today, a solemn reminder that we Jews, even in the U.S., must be constantly vigilant,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “We mourn with the families of the victims, pray for the full and speedy recovery of the wounded, and stand in solidarity with the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community.”

“The callousness of a bigoted individual intent on destroying innocent lives in a house of worship should unite Americans in anger and determination to confront the toxic hatred and extremism in our country,” he added.

Three women pray from a prayerbook a block away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018
AFP

“We call on political, religious, and civic leaders of all persuasions to join in issuing a clarion call for moderation and civility in our national discourse, for far more sustained attention to the repeated outbreaks of deadly mass shootings afflicting our country, and for concrete actions to identify and confront the violent anti-Semites and other purveyors of hate who continue to lurk in American society.”

In a statement, Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress said: “It is unfathomable that in the United States of America, Jews or any one else should have to live in fear of being targeted simply because of who they are and where they choose to worship. This was an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole. We must condemn this attack at the highest levels and do everything in our power to stop such atrocities from happening again."

He said the World Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities in 100 countries around the world, was “shocked and horrified” by what he described as a “heinous act of terror.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League said it was “unconscionable” that Jews would be targeted on Shabbat morning while praying in a synagogue. “We are devastated,” he said. “Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Jewish community. We are actively engaged with law enforcement to understand the extent of this anti-Semitic attack and we will work together with communities across the country to push back on prejudice wherever it appears.”

The ADL, which monitors incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world, said that the shooting attack in Pittsburgh was "likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States." 

The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella organization for 148 federations and 300 independent Jewish communities in North America, issued the following statement: “We’re horrified and saddened by the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Our prayers are with the victims, their families and the entire Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh community.”

In a Facebook post, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said it was making an exception to its rule of not issuing statements on Shabbat because of the extenuating circumstances. “Our hearts are broken,” it said in the post. “A Refuah Shlema [swift recovery] for those sick and injured. We will do everything possible to help.”

Denise Fulton, who lives outside of Pittsburgh, cries as she speaks with Bishop David Zubick after she came to show support for members of the community near the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018
AFP

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum noted that the killer, before opening fire, reportedly yelled: “All Jews must die.”

“The Museum reminds all Americans of the dangers of unchecked hatred and anti-Semitism, which must be confronted wherever they appear and calls on all Americans to actively work to promote social solidarity and respect the dignity of all individuals,” it said in its response.

J Street, the pro-Israel, anti-occupation advocacy group, called the attack “a nightmare for Jewish people across the United States and around the world, and for our country.” In a statement, the organization said: “There are no words to fully convey our horror and sadness at the murder of Jewish people who were worshipping with their community on Shabbat.”

 Describing the shooting as a “savage hate crime and an act of terror,” J Street added:

“This moment calls for responsible leadership. We must all join together in condemning the rising tide of white nationalism, racism and hatred directed at Jewish people and other vulnerable minorities in our country. And we must call for an end to the extreme rhetoric, laced with bigotry and racism, that is dominating our national discourse and breeding violence.”

In Israel, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he would be departing for Pittsburgh immediately to visit the scene of the attack, meet with members of the local community and participate in the funerals of those killed in the attack.

People comfort each other at the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018
AFP

"When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain. All Israel are responsible for one another,” he said. “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.”

Expressing horror at the “terrible massacre” carried out at the synagogue, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said his organization was prepared to extend any assistance required to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. Herzog was already planning a visit to the United States in early November, and an aide reported that he had made some last-minute changes into his itinerary in order to include a visit to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.

Also responding to the attack, President Reuven Rivlin said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the events in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 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. I am sure that the law enforcement agencies and the legal authorities in the U.S. will investigate this horrific event thoroughly and that justice will be served on the despicable murderer.”

Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, said: “This is a tremendously difficult day. And to those who accuse us of not being Jews, or for not being Jewish enough, here is additional proof of our Judaism, written in blood.”

In a statement, the Reform movement in Israel expressed horror at the incident and said: “It is a difficult and painful hour, but we know that the Jewish communities of North America – Reform, Conservative and Orthodox – are strong and determined to continue their spiritual, communal and educational work. We are with them in our thoughts and prayers.”