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ONE NATION, ONE HEART COMMUNITY MEMBERS VISIT PITTSBURGH IN WARM SHOW OF SUPPORT

By: Frieda Schweky



What had seemed like a typical Shabbat morning quickly turned to unspeakable tragedy for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community on October 28, Shabbat Parashat Vayera, 2018. Robert Bowers, who had long spouted vicious
anti-Semitic vitriol on social media, barged into the building of the Tree ofLife congregation and immediately opened fire on the innocent congregants.

This horrific event went down as the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States. Eleven Jewish lives were lost and six other people were injured during this 20-minute massacre. Witnesses who survived the attack reported that the shooter shouted anti-Semitic slurs during the course of the event.

On that very dark day, the world was awoken and reminded of the ancient prejudice against Jews, the oldest hatred in the world. While tolerance for minority groups has been embraced as a vitally important ideal in our society, and the United States guarantees us rights and freedoms we so rarely enjoyed during our long, difficult exile, hatred for Jews persists. There remain individuals and groups who firmly believe that Jews deserve to be discriminated against. In fact, Bowers told the police after his arrest that he “wanted all Jews to die.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump paid solemn tribute to each of the 11 people slain in the attack. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders condemned this incident in her briefing with her heart on her sleeve, pronouncing, “This atrocity was a chilling act of mass murder. It was an act of hatred, and, above all, it was an act of evil.” She added, “We all have a duty to confront anti-Semitism in all its forms,” and assured the country that President Trump “cherishes the American Jewish community for everything it stands for and contributes to our country.”

Alongside the enormous amounts of news coverage of the incident came a massive outpouring of support from around the country and the world – including from our community. A group of community members, spearheaded by Rabbi Yehuda Azancot from Beth Torah Congregation, headed out on a special hesedmission to Pittsburgh within just days of the tragedy.

“We went to show our support and appreciation to the police, to visit the sick, and to comfort the mourners,” wrote Beth Torah congregant Ricky Novick on the return trip from Pittsburgh. “Once we received word that the trip was on, other organizations immediately joined in. Rabbi Joey Beyda brought two students from Yeshiva of Flatbush, and Frieda Cattan brought two students from MDY high school. Board members and rabbis from Sephardic Bikur Holim, the Sephardic Community Center, Barkai Yeshivah, Hillel Yeshiva, SCA, and the West Deal Synagogue joined in.”

Adam Cohen arranged for the group a private meeting with the police department and the first responders to the tragedy. Rabbi Azancot took the opportunity to bring a beautiful kiddush Hashem(glorification of Gd) by delivering a stirring speech thanking the police chief and the injured officers, and presenting them with plaques expressing the Jewish community’s gratitude.

The group then headed to a shivahhouse to listen to the mourners tell stories about their loved ones, and afterward paid respects at a funeral home. Mr. Novick described how he stood on line with hundreds of other dedicated individuals who had cometo pay their respects, and how drivers passing the funeral home slowed down to express their support to the Jewish community. Rabbi Azancot lead the group in an emotional recitation of Tehilim in memory of the victims.

In a moving display of support for the Jewish community, Stars of David were put on display throughout the streets of Pittsburgh, as well as in the city’s airport.

“I am really grateful that we live in the best community in the world,” Novick reflected, concluding his written message to his synagogue about his trip. “Various community members sponsored the students so they could come. We, as a group, comprised of many organizations, came together to show the Pittsburgh community our Syrian community is with you. One nation, one heart.”