Shocked by Terror Attack, Buffalo's Jews Vow to Support Black Community

Members of Buffalo's Jewish community compare Saturday’s far-right attack against the city's Black community, which left 10 people dead, to the 2018 Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
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A member of the FBI looking at bullet holes through the glass at the scene of a shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, yesterday.
A member of the FBI looking at bullet holes through the glass at the scene of a shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, yesterday.Credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Members of Buffalo’s Jewish community responded with a mixture of compassion and horror after last weekend’s mass shooting at an area supermarket in which a far-right gunman targeting African Americans killed 10 people.

“I think for Jews this really hits home – particularly once the information about the gunman was exposed in terms of his manifesto, in terms of the level of antisemitic rhetoric and calls to action,” Buffalo Jewish Federation CEO Rob Goldberg said on Monday.

Located upstate, Buffalo is the second largest city in New York, but lags far behind New York City in terms of the size of its Jewish community, which numbers some 10,000 people.

Payton Gendron, 18, was wearing body armor and military-style clothing when he pulled up and opened fire at people at a Tops Friendly Market, the shooting streamed via a camera affixed to his helmet. Ten people died and another three were wounded in what authorities described as “racially motived violent extremism.”

Gendron was said to be motivated by the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which alleges that a tide of immigrants is crowding out white populations in Western countries. In a manifesto posted online before the attack, he claimed that Jews are the real problem but that “they can be dealt with in time.”

Replacement theory has inspired multiple extremist attacks in recent years, including the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in which 11 Jewish worshippers were murdered; the 2019 attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 Muslims; and the 2019 massacre at a Texas Walmart that targeted Hispanic immigrants.

Candles and signs are left at a memorial for victims at the scene of the mass shooting in Buffalo yesterday.Credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

It has grown increasingly popular on the American right, with a recent Associated Press poll finding that half of U.S. Republicans agree at least partially with the idea that there is an intentional effort to crowd white Americans out with immigrants.

Following Saturday’s attack, Buffalo’s small Jewish community is “very much focused on being supportive and standing by the side of the Black community that has been devastated by this incident,” Goldberg said. He noted that “our Jewish Community Relations Council and others are in direct contact, constant contact with leaders of the Black community” in order to offer assistance.

Since the supermarket, as a crime scene, has been closed down since the shooting, the issue of food insecurity has come to the fore, so Goldberg said the Jewish groups were “waiting to hear from leaders in the Black community, in terms of where we can direct resources – and that’s both food and money.”

Calling the shooting unimaginable, he compared it to the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre carried out by another proponent of replacement theory: “You know, it’s Tree of Life comes to Buffalo for the Black community, if you will.”

'Wonderful connections'

Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein of Buffalo’s Congregation Shir Shalom volunteered to provide counseling following the shooting. He said it was important “to do whatever you can. What we can do is attend to [the Black community’s] grief and maintain their memory.

“This is a place where everyone knows each other. We have a lot of challenges here, like any place. But we also have wonderful connections and the Jewish community is really part of the fabric of the larger community,” Lazarus-Klein said.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” he continued. “The closest that I experienced to this was being in Israel from 2000 to 2001,” during the second intifada. “And it feels like a little bit of that has come to America.”

Investigators at the scene of the shooting at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo yesterday.Credit: Matt Rourke/AP

However, despite the shooter’s focus on Jews in his manifesto, there will likely be no security ramp-up for the Jewish community, he said.

“Antisemitism increased so much over the last five years – to the point where we have security officers already at any service, any gathering, in front of our building. Someone had asked me: ‘Will this change anything?’ Probably not, because we already have the systems” in place, Lazarus-Klein said.

According to Rev. Mark Blue, head of the city’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the shooting “not only affected the African American community heavily, but it affected all of Western New York.”

He continued: “The relationships between our Jewish brothers and our African American community, I believe, is strong,” but expressed concern that the massacre could motivate copycat attacks.

“One thing that I’ve learned is that people aren’t born racist. Racism is learned. And what is learned can be unlearned,” Blue said. “And we need to make sure that individuals who feel that they have privilege understand that they don’t. But it’s going to take a concerted effort of everyone to let them know that we’re not going to tolerate these racist rants and individuals who can just spew hatred for our community.”

JTA and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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