On Pittsburgh Massacre Anniversary, Biden Urges to 'Speak Out Against Antisemitism'

Commemorating America's deadliest antisemitic attack on Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, Biden says 'silence is complicity'

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
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People gather outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, 2021, the third anniversary of the shooting attack there according to the Hebrew calendar.
People gather outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, 2021, the third anniversary of the shooting attack there according to the Hebrew calendar.Credit: Keith Srakocic/AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden marked the third anniversary of the deadly Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, saying "we must always stand up and speak out against antisemitism with clarity and conviction."

The 2018 massacre left 11 people dead and wounded seven, including five police officers.

The assault on the synagogue, where three congregations were holding worship services at the time, is a reminder of the persistence of hate, the president said.

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“The attack was the deadliest act of antisemitism in our nation’s history. It was an assault on members of the Tree of Life, New Light, and Dor Hadash congregations, the American Jewish community, and our country. And it was a reminder that hate never goes away, it only hides; and if we give hate oxygen, it can consume,” Biden said. 

“But the days, weeks, and months that followed also revealed the unyielding character of a community: The first responders who rushed into harm’s way.

"The teenagers who organized a Havdalah vigil for a neighborhood in need. The art teacher who painted hearts and Stars of David in the windows of a local coffee shop. The designer who formed an iconic image that defined a city and inspired a nation with three simple words: stronger than hate,” he continued.

The accused gunman in the attack, Robert Bowers, 49, of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, faces more than 60 federal charges, including hate crimes violations, obstruction of religious belief and the use of a firearm during a crime of violence. He has pleaded not guilty and faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

Biden said the aftermath of the shooting was a reminder of how to turn pain into purpose, saying “we must always stand up and speak out against antisemitism with clarity and conviction, and rally against the forces of hate in all its forms, because silence is complicity. We must recognize in others our shared humanity and strive to summon unexpected faith in unanticipated moments – in the hope that we might heal and rebuild.” 

The president noted that his administration is continuing to work toward combatting antisemitism and hate, including laying out a comprehensive strategy at addressing domestic terrorism, enacting legislation aimed at countering hate, taking executive action to protect houses of worship and pushing forward with executive and legislative action aimed at reducing gun violence. 

“This Shabbat, in synagogues around the country, worshipers will sing the timeless words from the Book of Proverbs: Eitz Chayim Hee La’machazikim Bah. ‘It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it,’” he noted.

“As we mark three years since this heinous attack, we resolve to remember the lives lost and commit to protecting a future worthy of their memories. May the survivors and the families of the victims hold fast to the teachings of their faith and find comfort in the embrace of their community and their country.”

Vice President Kamala Harris also marked the "unspeakable act fueled by antisemitic hate" in a statement, noting that "in our country, everyone has the right to go to work, to go to school, to walk down the street, to pray – not as the other, not as them, but as us. When a white supremacist murdered and injured innocent people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a harm was committed against all of us."

She added, "Today, we know that silence is not an option. More hate crimes were committed in the U.S. last year than at any point in the last 20 years." Harris said "we stand in solidarity with the Squirrel Hill community and the entire Jewish community. We will never forget those lives that were taken. And we recommit to combat antisemitism wherever it exists."

With reporting from The Associated Press.

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