Marking 4 years since Tree of Life massacre, Biden rues ‘ugly rise’ of antisemitism

Noting ‘vile conspiracies amplified by a celebrity,’ House speaker Nancy Pelosi urges ‘moral responsibility to combat the scourge of antisemitism’

A Star of David hangs from a fence outside the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 26, 2022. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
A Star of David hangs from a fence outside the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 26, 2022. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

US President Joe Biden led memorial messages and vows to combat antisemitism on Thursday, marking four years since a gunman shot dead eleven Jewish worshipers and injured seven others at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“A quiet Shabbat morning was shattered by gunfire and hate, and a place of sanctuary became a place of carnage,” Biden said in a statement.

“As we grieve this deadliest act of antisemitism in American history, we stand with the community of Squirrel Hill — and Jewish communities across America and around the world — in resolving to combat antisemitism and hate in all of its forms,” he said.

“This is especially true as we witness an ugly increase in antisemitism in America.”

Listing action the administration has taken to confront antisemitism, Biden noted the appointment of Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, an ambassador-level role.

He also cited the largest-ever increase in funding for security for synagogues and other religious institutes, and other actions announced last month at the United We Stand Summit.

“The rabbis teach that ‘what comes from the heart, enters the heart,'” Biden said, citing the eleventh Century Rabbi Moses ibn Ezra.

“On this difficult day, our hearts are with the families of the victims, the survivors, and all those impacted by the Tree of Life shooting. May their memories be a blessing, and may we continue to bridge the gap between the world we see and the future we seek.”

The victims of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting, October 27, 2018 (Facebook/Google Maps/JTA Collage)

On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers burst into the house of worship in Pittsburgh’s leafy Squirrel Hill neighborhood armed with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, then opened fire.

He was arrested after a police tactical team tracked him down and shot him twice in the shoulder and once in the leg. It was the deadliest attack ever on the US Jewish community.

US President Joe Biden meets with military leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, October 26, 2022. (Susan Walsh/AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: “Our country has a moral responsibility to combat the scourge of antisemitism – to ensure every American can live free from bigoted speech and hate-fueled violence.”

“Yet even as we mark this dark day, sickening words, symbols and acts of hate continue to torment Jews and other communities across the country. Today’s anniversary highlights our collective obligation to condemn and reject antisemitism in all its forms – from the vile conspiracies amplified by a celebrity to the violent extremism inflamed by the far right.”

Though Pelosi did not mention him by name, she was likely referring to rapper Kanye West, who has drawn outrage and backlash over recent antisemitic remarks.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Pelosi wrote “This week’s observance of 4 years since the deadly Tree of Life Synagogue shooting highlights that we must always condemn antisemitism and bigotry here and around the world — including from celebrities like Kanye West.”

The American Jewish Committee tweeted, “We will never forget the pain of this horrific day, nor the innocent souls taken.”

It included the names of all eleven victims: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger

“We remember the 11 members of our Jewish family who died as we continue to awaken our world to the dramatic surge of antisemitism in our midst,” tweeted Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

“Hateful rhetoric fuels violence against us,” he wrote.

Bnai Brith International tweeted: “We remember those killed simply for being Jewish and in their memory, continue fighting anti-Semitism.”

There were more remembrance statements from Pennsylvanian lawmakers and Virginia senator Mark Warner who tweeted: “We cannot let anti-semitism proliferate in our communities. I stand firmly with Jewish Americans and against hate speech and terror.”

A memorial inside the locked doors of the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 26, 2022. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Local sports teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Pittsburgh Penguins also posted remembrance messages.

“Today and every day, we honor and remember the victims of the Tree of Life tragedy,” the Pittsburgh Steelers tweeted. “We must always be #StrongerThanHate.”

In addition, the Pittsburgh Steelers official merchandise shop launched a fundraising campaign by selling t-shirts with the slogan “STRONGER THAN HATE.”

“Proceeds from the sale of the shirts will benefit the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh – Fund for Victims of Terror,” the store wrote.

The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council lobby group tweeted “Four years ago, 11 Jews were gunned down at #TreeofLife synagogue in the most violent antisemitic attack in US history. We stand in solidarity with their families, community, and all Jews. We must work together to stop hate-fueled violence in America.”

The official Twitter account of the Flight 93 National Memorial also marked the date, posting: “On this day, we will forever remember the attack on Tree Of Life Congregation, on October 27, 2018. Our remembrances will continue to evolve over time, but one thing is certain: The love and embrace from the entire world will never be forgotten.”

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