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2018-OCT

Part 2 of four parts:

Mass murder in a Pittsburgh synagogue (cont'd).

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This topic is continued here from Part 1

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2018-OCT-27: The Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting. The worst anti-semitic attack in U.S. history: [Continued]

Mourners visiting synagogue 1
Mourners visit memorial at the Tree of Life synagogue.

The alleged shooter, Robert Bowers faces "... 29 charges in all, including 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of two hate crimes:

  • obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, and

  • obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer." 2

While being treated in the hospital, he told police that:

"He wanted all Jews to die and also that they [Jews] were committing genocide to his people."3

Bowers was discharged from the hospital on Monday, OCT-29, and remains in police custody.

According to Dakin Andone, et al., writing for CNN:

"Bowers could face the death penalty if he is convicted of a hate crime." 4

FBI Special Agent Bob Jones commented:

"Members of the Tree of Life synagogue, [who were] conducting a peaceful service in their place of worship, were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith."

The Anti-Defamation League, (ADL) is the leading U.S. group that:

"... "fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals, and protects civil rights for all [through] information, education, legislation, and advocacy."

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL's CEO, released a statement saying that the mass shooting:

"... is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States."

star symbol The ADL reported that a record 57% increase in anti-semitic incidents had occurred across the U.S. during the first year of President Trump's administration.

President Trump, who was asked by reporters to comment about the attack, called for a return of the death penalty. He also suggested that synagogues install an armed guard to prevent future anti-semitic attacks. He said:

"If they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately. Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly. So it’s a very difficult situation ... Isn’t it a shame you even have to think of that, inside a temple, inside a church?"

Chuck Diamond was the synagogue’s former Rabbi. When he heard about the mass shooting, he said:

"I cried. I heard about it, and thought about the people who I knew would be there. It was terrifying to me. ... I’m just torn apart. ... There’s a lot of anti-semitism out there, a lot of hate out there, It’s in the newspapers every day. It’s a terrible time."

Webmaster's note:

Anti-semitism has been a very serious problem in the world for centuries. In Christian countries, it has been largely based on the belief that Jews murdered Jesus circa 30 CE. This was a belief promoted by most Christian groups until the mid 20th century. It led to many centuries of pogroms, the murder of Jews during the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition. In the 20th century, it facilitated the Holocaust. It is also based on false reasoning, because Jesus was sentenced to die by the Roman government at the time, and the sentence was carried out by the Roman army. Crucifixion was a Roman and not a Jewish method of execution.

One still hears the anti-semitic slur "Christ-killer" used. A Google search found about 50,000 occurrences of the slur currently online.

On a positive note, two Muslim-American non-profit groups: Celebrate Mercy and MPower Change started a fundraiser to help families of shooting victims pay for funeral expenses and medical bills. They reached their goal of $25,000 within six hours! They then raised their goal to $50,000, $75,000, $125,000, and $150,000 which was reached in less than 2 days! 5,6 As of the morning of NOV, donations total $238,107, averaging about $41 from each of 5,805 donors. Donations were tax-deductable for U.S. donors. The fundraiser ended on NOV-04, having collected US $238,634. 7,10 They have joined with a local Muslim group who will distribute the money raised to the families of those who were killed.

The groups issued a statement, saying:

"The Muslim-American community extends its hands to help the shooting victims, whether it is the injured victims, or the Jewish families who have lost loved ones. We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action.

Through this campaign we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event." 6

Sadly, a few weeks later, two right-wing web sites claimed that the revenue was never given to the synagogue, but was either kept by the two Muslim groups who had collected the money, or had been given to a mosque.

  • The Conservative Review published an article titled: "Islamists in Pittsburgh pocket cash raised for Jewish community in wake of mass shooting."

  • Gateway Pundit published an article titled: "Islamic Group Raises $238,634 Following Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting – $155,000 Went to Local Mosque, Only $10,000 Went to Synagogue." 10

Snopes investigated the claims, and concluded that both were be false "Fake News." They found that:

"The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh gave two separate checks, for $155,000 and $84,534, to the Tree of Life synagogue on 21 November, six days before the articles were posted."

Snopes published copies of two letters from Rabbi Myers of the Pittsburgh Synagogue to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh thanking them for the gift. 10

On the NPR radio program "All Things Considered", host Michel Martin interviewed David Shribman, the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He lives only three blocks away from the Tree of Life synagogue. Martin asked Shribman to read a section of his report on the mass shooting. Shribman read:

"Because this was our neighborhood caught in the crossfire of the strains of the global village, and for once, sadly -- so very sadly -- the hurt was ours, and the victims were ours, and the need to heal is ours. For now it has happened here, for millions across this wounded nation, we are the focus of anguish and anger and solace. It can happen here - place of the moment. And as we suffer, and as we know, given the tempo of the tragedy in these times that are ours, that title won't be ours for long.

In our grief -- shared across all faiths -- we need something to lean on to steady us. We might reflect on this passage from Proverbs that lent its name to this place of tragedy - a reference to the metaphor describing Judaism's most sacred text, the Torah, as a tree of life - or, in transliteration, Etz hayyim (ph). It is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace."

When asked "what do you think it means," Shribman replied:

" I think it means that we'll hurt here for a long while, that we'll bury our dead and that we will be -- and I'm having trouble even saying this, Michel -- that we will be stronger for the loss, though the loss in those families will never go away. I think we'll be more determined than ever to live civic, civil lives - to reach out to one another and to live together."

People gathered in many locations in the U.S., Canada, and probably other countries.

Thousands of people visited the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh to mourn the deaths. 2,000 or more packed the hall itself, and thousands more stood outside. 6

Hundreds of residents from my own city of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, which has a population that is slightly over 100,000, gathered at Confederation Square to demonstrate solidarity for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, their families, and friends.

Rabbi Erin Polansky of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Kingston said it was comforting to see so many people come together in her own city. She said:

"It’s just very heartwarming and encouraging, and not at all surprising from this community." 8

President Donald Trump condemned the synagogue shooting as an "evil anti-Semitic attack." He tweeted:

"The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!"

During remarks at the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis, IN, President Trump said:

"This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil -- hard to believe, and frankly something that is unimaginable. ... This was an anti-semitic act. You wouldn't think this would be possible in this day and age, but we just don't seem to learn from the past. There must be no tolerance for anti-Semitism in America or for any form of religious or racial hatred or prejudice." 9

Vice President Mike Pence, at a rally Las Vegas, NV said that:

"... anyone who does such a thing in a temple or a church should pay the ultimate price. As Las Vegas knows all too well, what happened in Pittsburgh today was not just criminal, it was evil." 9

Curiously, whether by accident or intent, he left out "mosque."

First daughter Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, said Saturday that "America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and anti-semite." She tweeted:

"All good Americans stand with the Jewish people to oppose acts of terror & share the horror, disgust & outrage over the massacre in Pittsburgh. We must unite against hatred & evil. God bless those affected."

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This topic continues in the next page.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Julia Ioffe, "How much responsibility does Trump bear for the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh?," Washington Post, 2018-OCT-28, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  2. Saeed Ahmed & Paul Murphy, "Here's what we know so far about Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect," CNN U.S., 2018-OVT-28, at: https://www.cnn.com/
  3. "Pittsburgh synagogue gunman suspect: Who is Robert Bowers?," BBC News, 2018-OCT-29, at: https://www.bbc.com/
  4. Dakin Andone, et al., "Hate crime charges filed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 dead," CNN, 2018-OCT-28, at: https://www.cnn.com/
  5. Avery Anapol, "Muslim groups raise thousands for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims," The Hill, 2018-OCT-28, at: https://thehill.com/
  6. "Muslim groups raise stunning amount of money for victims of synagogue massacre in less than 24 hours," The Blaze, 2018-OCT-28, at: https://www.theblaze.com/
  7. "Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue,"
  8. Frazer Snowdon, "Kingston residents hold vigil to remember Pittsburgh shooting victims," Global News, 2018-OCT-31, at: https://globalnews.ca/
  9. Caroline Kelly, et al., "Trump says Pittsburgh synagogue should have had armed guards," CNN Politics, 2018-OCT-28, at: https://www.cnn.com/
  10. Dan Macguill, "Did Muslim Groups Keep Money Intended for Victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting?," Snopes, 2018-NOV-29, at: https://www.snopes.com/

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Copyright © Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2018-OCT-28
Most recently updated on 2018-DEC-04

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