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2018-OCT

Last of three parts:

Mass murder in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

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This topic is continued here from Part 2

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Sponsored link:

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2018-OCT-29: A political campaign event creates conflict in Michigan:

Lena Epstein (R) is a candidate in the NOV-06 election for the U.S. House to represent Michigan's 11th Congressional District, northwest of Detroit. If she is elected, she would be the first Jewish Republican member of Congress. In a poll conducted by Siena College from OCT-01 to 06, she was found to be trailing the Democratic candidate Haley Stevens by seven percentage points: 38% to 45%. 1

She invited Rabbi Loren Jacobs to give a "unity prayer" at her campaign rally. Vice President Mike Pence attended. He referred to Rabbi Jacobs as a "leader in the Jewish community."

Joe Tacopino, writing for the New York Post said that Rabbi Jacobs was allegedly expelled from his congregation for libel more than a decade previously. 2

Some observers criticized her choice of Rabbi Jacobs because he is a follower of Messianic Judaism -- a faith group that regards Jesus Christ as the Messiah. This conflicts with the beliefs of the main Jewish traditions: Conservative, Hasidic, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform. Many Jews consider Messianic Judaism to be a branch of Christianity.

Jacobs opened the rally by praying to the:

"... "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God of my Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, and my God and father too. I pray that you would comfort all those who are mourning because of those who were wounded and killed. Lord, please work so that instead of division in our nation there is unity and peace."

Matt Brooks is the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He called the selection of Rabbi Jacobs:

"... an unfortunate and disappointing mistake. ... Any kind of elevation or legitimization or profile for Messianic Jews or Jews for Jesus is unacceptable. There is no circumstance where that is an acceptable speaker to represent the Jewish community. ... his [selection] was an unfortunate decision that was made by one of the campaign staffers, and quite frankly I wish that a different decision had been made."

Halie Soifer is the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. She issued a statement saying that the selection of Rabbi Jacobs was a:

"... failure of leadership. So-called Messianic Jews are not a part of the Jewish community, and espouse views considered deeply offensive. In choosing this individual to give a 'unity prayer' at the Pence campaign rally, Epstein demonstrated that she lacks both the judgment and understanding to lead Michigan's 11th Congressional District."

Candidate Epstein issued a statement that links the criticism of Rabbi Jacobs to religious intolerance:

"My family's history as Jews and my commitment to my Jewish faith are beyond question. ... [The selection of Rabbi Jacobs] was an effort of unity. ... I invited the prayer because we must unite as a nation -- while embracing our religious differences -- in the aftermath of Pennsylvania. Any media or political competitor who is attacking me or the Vice President is guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance and should be ashamed. Now is the time for people of all faiths, of all religions, to come together as one and reject hate and religious divisions." 1,2,3

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2018-OCT-30: The President and First Lady visit Pittsburgh:

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, told reporters that the president will:

"... express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community. ... Above all, it was an act of evil. We all have a duty to confront anti-semitism in all its forms. Today, America grieves for the precious lives who are cruelly stolen." 4

Eleven Jewish leaders published a letter on the Bend the Arc website asking President Trump to not come to the city unless he first clearly denounces white nationalism. It accused the President of undermining the safety and security of African Americans, Jews, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and disabled people. It gathered over 22,000 additional online signatures from readers as well. It said, in part:

"For the past three years, your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence. ... Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country. President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities."

On the other hand, Jeffrey Myers, the current rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue, said that he would welcome the president's visit. 5,6

The four main leaders in Congress were invited to join the President. They would be the Majority and Minority Leaders of both the Senate and House. All refused.

The President and First Lady visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday, OCT-30. When Air Force One landed, they were not welcomed by the usual collection of local dignitaries. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (D), Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D), and others would normally be there to welcome the President, but nobody was present.

The President and First Lady paid tribute to the shooting victims. They entered the synagogue vestibule and lit candles for each of the 11 victims. Nearby protestors shouted that the President was not welcome. Some shouted: "words matter," and "Trump, go home." 7

An article on the AL.com web site said:

"Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who had been conducting services when the shots rang out, gestured at the white Star of David posted for each victim. At each, the president placed a stone, a Jewish burial tradition, while the first lady added a flower. They were trailed by first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who are Jewish.

Near the synagogue, flowers, candles and chalk drawings filled the corner, including a small rock painted with the number "6,000,011," adding the victims this week to the estimated number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The Trumps later spent more than an hour at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where some of the victims are recovering. The couple's motorcade passed several hundred protesters on the street and a sign that said: "It's your fault." Inside, Trump visited with wounded police officers and injured congregants but did not appear to meet with relatives of the deceased."

Pittsburgh resident Paul Carberry, who lives near the synagogue, said that President Trump should have delayed his visit until after the dead were buried. He said:

"He didn't pull the trigger, but his verbiage and actions don't help."

Shayna Marcus, a nurse who was involved in treatment of the wounded, disagreed. She said:

"I don't think focusing on Trump is the answer." 7

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Update on the GAB.com website that Bowers had been using:

Many of the technology services that Gab has used for their website withdrew their support, including Pay Pal, Go Daddy, Joynet, Stripe, and Medium. As of OCT-29, Gab personnel were working "around the clock to get Gab.com back online." 8

As of 2018-OCT-30 at 0700 hours Eastern Time, the Gab.com web site that Bowers had used to post anti-semitic messages was responding only with a Timeout Error 524 message.

error message

Retrying a minute later, their web site responded with a single message from Andrew Torba, Gab's CEO which said, in part:

"Gab has spent the past 48 hours proudly working with the DOJ and FBI to bring justice to an alleged terrorist. Because of the data we provided, they now have plenty of evidence for their case. In the midst of this, Gab has been no-platformed by essential internet infrastructure providers at every level. We are the most censored, smeared, and no-platformed startup in history, which means we are a threat to the media and to the Silicon Valley Oligarchy.

Gab isn’t going anywhere. ..."

"As we transition to a new hosting provider Gab will be inaccessible for a period of time. We are working around the clock to get Gab.com back online. Thank you and remember to speak freely."

From OCT-31 -- Halloween -- to NOV-02, the Gab.com web site remained off line.

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Information for teachers:

The educational website "Facing History and Ourselves" supports:

"... educators and students as they model and craft better communities, in classrooms and across society. If we help them address and eliminate baseless hatred, we are helping to create a world that is less violent, more just, and more equitable."

The group has written a "Teaching Idea," a report titled: "Responding to Pittsburgh." It discusses the three events covered in this essay: mailing of IED bombs, the murder of two African Americans in Jeffersontown, KY, and the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. They:

"... offer some suggestions for opening a conversation about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and other recent events with your students, as well as selected resources to examine anti semitism and religious bigotry and to explore the role we all can play in standing up to hate."

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2018-OCT-29: Further reactions to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting:

Ishaan Tharoor, writing for the Washington Post's daily newsletter, "Today's Worldview," said:

"At what point can an ideology be blamed for violence? After a horrific mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, President Trump’s supporters seemed to say never.

They denied any link between the White House’s persistent, polarizing rhetoric and the slaughter that took place. They scoffed at claims that Trump’s demagoguery -- replete with white-nationalist themes that critics have long cited as anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent -- played a role in what was the most deadly act of anti-Semitic violence in American history.

'People on both sides of the aisle use strong language about our political differences,' said Vice President Pence in an interview Saturday. 'But I just don’t think you can connect it to threats or acts of violence.'

But the White House cannot easily wave away its own responsibility for the anger roiling the nation. 'Culpability is a tricky thing, and politicians, especially of the demagogic variety, know this very well. Unless they go as far as organized, documented, state-implemented slaughter, they don’t give specific directions,' wrote Julia Ioffe in a column for The Washington Post. 'They don’t have to. They simply set the tone. In the end, someone else does the dirty work, and they never have to lift a finger -- let alone stain it with blood'." 9

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2018-NOV-01: Shooting suspect pleads not guilty:

At a brief arraignment in federal court, alleged shooter Robert Bowers responded to his 44-count indictment by pleading not guilty, and requesting a jury trial. The main charges against him are 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death. His trial is expected to begin in mid-December and to last for three or four weeks -- or longer if the death penalty is sought. U.S. Attorney Scott Brady has requested permission from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek the death penalty. 10 Bowers is being represented by Michael J. Novara, a public defender.

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Final thought:

From 1993-DEC-07: Toni Morrison (1931-) is an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. She won the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Twenty-five years ago, her Nobel acceptance speech included the following statement, which seems to fit today's tragedy:

"Oppressive language does more than represent violence. It is violence. It does more than represent the limits of knowledge, it limits knowledge. ... It must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language -- all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas." 10

If she were delivering the same speech today, she might well have added oppressive "homophobic language" and "transphobic language" to her list.

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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. "We polled voters in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District," New York Times, 2018-OCT, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
  2. Joe Taopino, "Pence’s ‘Messianic rabbi’ was defrocked 15 years ago for libel, New York Post, 2018-OCT-31, at: https://nypost.com/
  3. Kate Sullivan & Daniel Burke, "Jewish groups from both parties slam 'offensive' decision to have Messianic Jewish minister at Pence event," CNN Politics, 2018-OCT-31, at: https://www.cnn.com/
  4. David Jackson, et al., "President Trump to visit Pittsburgh Tuesday to show support for community after mass killing at synagogue," USA Today, 2018-OCT-29, at: https://www.usatoday.com/
  5. John Bacon, "Some Pittsburgh Jewish leaders to Trump: Don't come until you denounce white nationalism, USA Today, 2018-OCT-29, at: https://www.usatoday.com/
  6. "Pittsburgh shooting: Gab drops offline after attack," 2018-OCT-29, at: https://www.bbc.com/
  7. "Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: Amid protests, Trump pays tribute to victims," AL.com, 2018-OCT-30, at: https://www.al.com/
  8. "Pittsburgh shooting: Gab drops offline after attack," 2018-OCT-29, at: https://www.bbc.com/
  9. Ishaan Tharoor, "Right-wing terror and Trump’s nativism ," Washington Post, 2018-OCT-19, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  10. Doug Stanglin and John Bacon, "Suspect in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting pleads not guilty, "USA TODAY, 2018-NOV-01, at: https://www.usatoday.com/
  11. Toni Morrison, "Nobel Lecture," Nobel Prize, 1993-DEC-07, at: https://www.nobelprize.org/

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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-NOV-02

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