Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Response

by Katie Sturm

Our team at PCI stands both horrified and broken-hearted to witness the terrorist mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday. The tragic loss of life of 11 people, during the joyful Shabbat celebration and welcoming a child into the Covenant of Abraham, is a deeply sad reminder that there is still deep work to be done in this country. Even as we sit shiva and grieve with our Jewish brothers and sisters for this great loss in their community, we stand firm in our commitment to peace-building and reconciliation, in healing this festering wound in our country. No one should fear for their safety in our country because of their faith.

We are also deeply troubled that the terrorist attacked this peaceful community as a clearly anti-Semitic attack, with hatred and fear of Jews rooted in a distrust of Islam and immigrants. This rhetoric against these communities is not new, and the conspiracy language against Jews goes back centuries. We celebrate the work that Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is doing to support and empower immigrants, and as we work closely with these communities, we stand with the Tree of Life Synagogue and HIAS in their support of all immigrants, including our Muslim brothers and sisters. We also reject anti-Semitism in all its forms, recognizing that the white supremacy and neo-nazism movements have not only taken hold in our country through violent rhetoric and fear-mongering, but also through apathy and reluctance to speak out against it. It is made worse by voices who blame victims rather than hold the guilty accountable for their actions and demand restitution. American Jews have been experiencing drastically increased rates of anti-Semitic violence in the past two years, from vandalism to assault, and now to this egregious violation of a house of worship with gun violence and murder.

Even as these other voices gain momentum in our time, we wish to stand on the side of Justice, on the side of Tikkun Olam (the restoration of all things), and to affirm our values of religious freedom, welcome of the immigrant, and embrace of our brothers and sisters in both Islam and Judaism. We wish to affirm that although peace-building is hard, often thankless work, it is more necessary than ever in these troubled times to build bridges of understanding and compassion. As our Jewish brothers and sisters enter a new day of fear in our country – colored by the history of the Shoah and with echoes of the language of Weimar Germany, we stand hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder with them. We long for the day when extra security measures are no longer needed at their houses of worship and the fear-mongering ends. We are humbled to recognize that we have so much to learn about their lived experience here in the USA, and we commit to being better witnesses to their stories. We are proud to stand alongside the many Muslim and other organizations offering their consolation and financial support in this time, and offer our own heartfelt support as we mourn with those who mourn.

For those who we have lost far too early: Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice & Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irivn Younger, we will light a candle today in remembrance, and declare Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet. May their memories be a blessing. And we remember the words in the Pirkei Avot, which declares “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” [2:21]. In honor and in memory of these witnesses, we commit to the hard work of building bridges of peace within our communities, creating space for the immigrant (Muslim and otherwise), and standing with our Jewish brothers and sisters toward a more peaceful and reconciled future for our country.