Bennett, Jewish leaders to discuss Israeli help to US synagogues after massacre

Diaspora minister scheduled to meet officials from Conference of Presidents, ADL, Jewish Federation in New York following Pittsburgh attack

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A Jewish emergency crew and police officers at the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded six at the Tree Of Life synagogue, on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/AFP)
A Jewish emergency crew and police officers at the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded six at the Tree Of Life synagogue, on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/AFP)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett will hold an “emergency meeting” with senior American Jewish leaders on Tuesday, to discuss how Israel can assist the Jewish community following Saturday’s devastating terror attack in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an official in the US said Monday.

Bennett, who also serves as education minister, was scheduled to meet with representatives from the powerful Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federation, and the Anti-Defamation League, the source, who asked not to be identified, told The Times of Israel.

The official said the minister and American Jewish leaders would discuss “worrying trends” in the US and “longer term strategies, as well as how Israel can help.”

Following the meeting, which will be held in New York, Bennett may consider directing funds to Diaspora Jews for additional security measures in synagogues and community centers.

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to the media near the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, on October 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Unlike in many Jewish communities around the world, most American synagogues and schools do not have full-time guards on the premises or other comprehensive security protocols.

On Saturday morning, 46-year-old Robert Bowers — armed with an legally purchased AR-15 rifle and three handguns — entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, reportedly yelling, “All Jews must die,” as he began shooting the people inside.

Bowers killed 11 people before a tactical police team shot and wounded him. The victims were identified as Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Cecil Rosenthal, 59; David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84; Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.

Six people were also injured, including four police officers.

Bowers was charged with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.

Some of the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, October 27, 2018. Top row, from left to right: Cecil Rosenthal, Richard Gottfried, Melvin Wax. Bottom row: Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, Danny Stein. (Courtesy of David DeFelice via AP, Barry Werber via AP, Avishai Ostrin)

He was also charged in a 29-count federal criminal complaint that included counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death — a federal hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder.

The massacre was the deadliest attack on a Jewish institution in American history.

Bennett traveled to the US following the shooting in order to share the official condolences of the Israeli government.

It was not immediately clear what type of assistance — budgetary or otherwise — Israel would offer the American Jewish community, as it would be largely dependent on the requests made by the US Jewish officials during the meeting on Tuesday.

Historically, the Mossad intelligence service has worked to protect Jewish communities around the world from terror attacks. However, this has generally been in locations where the local government was found either unwilling or unable to defend its Jewish population — for example, in many Arab and Muslim countries.

On Sunday evening, Bennett likened the killer to the terrorists who fire missiles at Israel.

“The hand that fires missiles is the same hand that shoots worshipers,” he said at an interfaith ceremony at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh. “We shall fight anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head and we shall prevail.”

Naftali Bennett, minister for Diaspora Affairs, and also Education, speaks during a vigil to remember the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. held at the Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 28, 2018. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Bennett flew out from Israel on Saturday night and was greeted warmly. “I saw a war and diverse community of love and unity,” he said.

“I saw Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life, which will never be uprooted by hate,” Bennett said in his address.

He alluded to tensions between American Jewish groups and his government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over the status of non-Orthodox movements, and appeared to suggest that it was time to resolve the tensions.

“The murderer’s bullet does not stop to ask: Are you Conservative or Reform, are you Orthodox? Are you right wing or left wing? It has one goal, and that is to kill innocent people. Innocent Jews.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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