As Shabbat ends, religious Jewish groups condemn synagogue attack

As Shabbat ends, religious Jewish groups condemn synagogue attack

Many Orthodox Jews would have been unaware of the massacre in Pittsburgh, which left 11 dead, until after nightfall on Saturday

People light candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Saturday, October 27, 2018. (AP/Matt Rourke)
People light candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Saturday, October 27, 2018. (AP/Matt Rourke)

Religious US Jewish groups and leaders on Saturday evening condemned the deadly attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue and extended their condolences to the families of the victims.

Orthodox Jews do not use electronic devices on the Jewish Sabbath, and many would have been unaware until after sunset of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, which left 11 dead and six injured.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Rabbinical Council of America issued a joint statement on the “horrific murders,” expressing sympathy for the families of the deceased and wishes for a speedy recovery of the injured.

“This senseless act of anti-Semitic violence was not only an egregious attack on the Jewish community, but an attack on the very foundations of civil society and our collective democratic values,” said Allen Fagin, the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said the tragedy showed the importance of reaching out to those who hold opposing views.

“We live in contentious times, when fringe elements of society have become emboldened by speech which is often disrespectful and hateful,” said Muskin. “As a nation, committed to the freedom and rights of all, we must commit to reach out not only to those who are like us – but especially as our sacred Torah has taught us – to those with whom we disagree.”

People gather for a interfaith candlelight vigil a few blocks away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/AFP)

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the attack showed weaknesses in society, but said that people must work together to mend the rifts.

“This time the Jewish community was targeted, in what may be the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history,” Jacobs said. “Other times it has been African-Americans. Or Sikhs. Or Muslims. Or members of the LGBTQ community. Or too many others. What we know is this: the fabric holding our nation together is fraying. It is our task to ensure that it does not come apart.”

World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder on October 13, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said the attack on people simply for being Jewish should sound an alarm to all Americans.

“This Shabbat, our worst nightmares came true. Innocent people were killed and wounded for the simple crime of being Jewish,” Lauder said. “This was an attack specifically targeting the Jewish community, in a deliberate and callous manifestation of antisemitism and hatred, and it should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans that such horror can and has happened here.”

Saturday’s synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States, the Anti-Defamation League, an organization focused on combating anti-Semitism, said Saturday.

“We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States,” the ADL said in a statement.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO And National Director of the Anti-Defamation League testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on responses to the increase in religious hate crimes. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age,” the ADL’s head, Jonathan A. Greenblatt, said.

The gunman, identified as Robert Bowers, is said to have yelled “All Jews must die” as he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in the city, and began firing. He engaged in a shootout with responding police officers and barricaded himself inside the building before surrendering.

“Unfortunately, this violent attack — the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the United States since 2014 — occurs at time when ADL has reported a historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment,” Greenblatt said, appearing to refer to a Kansas City attack that left three dead.

Other Jewish groups and organizations in the US immediately condemned the deadly attack and extended their condolences to the victims of the shootings and their families.

“Attacking innocent civilians in their place of worship, when they are congregating to practice their faith, is a cowardly and dreadful crime of hate,” the American Jewish Congress said in a statement. “During these terrible times, we stand even stronger against anti-Semitism, white supremacy and intimidation. Our hearts go out to the people that were hurt and their families and loved ones, and we mourn the loss of multiple members of our community.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged President Donald Trump to “convene an emergency meeting of religious leaders to help stop the slide to extremism in American Society.” Americans, it said, need and want leadership from both sides of the political aisle to stop the continuous slide to the brink. “The president should also immediately convene a cross section of faith leaders to help turn the tide against hate and extremism.”

Law enforcement run with a person on a stretcher at the scene where multiple people were shot, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

JCC Association of North America president and CEO Doron Krakow expressed his sorrow and solidarity with the Pittsburgh congregation, saying in a statement: “Our hearts are with the Tree of Life Synagogue, the three congregations co-located within the facility, and the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community on what has been a horrific day, as we mourn this tragedy and face an increasingly violent epidemic of anti-Semitism.”

Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, said that her organization was “overcome with grief and heartbreak at the unconscionable act of terror during morning prayers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He added that “this is a moment when we are all called — Jews and allies — to gather together in community, to mourn, to hold each other, to share our sadness and our outrage. Tonight at vigils across the country, Jewish communities and allies will light the Havdallah candles that mark the end of Shabbat.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance and a rabbi in the Conservative movement, condemned the shooting as well as what he characterized as dangerous rhetoric from government officials — including Trump — that emboldened white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

The scene of a mass hooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/AFP)

“This is an unspeakable tragedy for this congregation and for the Jewish community,” Moline said. “The solution to ending gun violence and hate crimes should have happened long before the gunman reached the door of the synagogue this morning. Instead, the president and his supporters point the finger of blame at everyone other than the shooter and ignore their own complicity in emboldening people motivated by hate to take violent actions.”

J Street issued a statement calling for responsible leadership following the attack in order to deal with the threat posed by anti-Semitism.

“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,” the statement read. “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.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum condemned the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue as well, stressing that Americans must be more aware of the “dangers of unchecked hatred and antisemitism 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.”

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