We are all horrified and struck by the anti-Semitic mass murder of our fellow Jews at Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh this morning. As a Conservative synagogue in Squirrel Hill, nearly every one of us has a direct connection to the victims and the community. We immediately imagine their fear and pain under fire. We imagine ourselves in, God forbid, such a circumstance. We want to know what happened, what is happening, and what we can do moving forward to help them and prevent such heinous violence in the future. As of this moment, with Shabbat just ending, we don’t have many answers.
First, we know the synagogue was active and alive with Shabbat services, a bris and religious school - as all of our synagogues often are on Saturday morning and that 11 people have died. Second, we know that the police were quickly and actively involved in return fire against the shooter. Third, the shooter has a strong history as an anti-Semite, far-right conspiracy theorist, and white supremacist. Fourth, he is in custody and the immediate and specific danger is evidently passed.
Next, we do not know any details of the horrible task of healing, burial, shiva and mourning. We will know more soon, and we will want to be of support in any way we can to the Etz Chaim community. The FBI is the lead agency, as both a hate crime and act of terror, and their investigation will determine the speed at which recovery can take place.
Nationally, we are grateful for the unambiguous comments of President Trump and others condemning the act as an anti-Semitic act of murder. In the wake of the white supremacist mail bomber this past week, we seek broader answers about the rise of hate, white supremacy and anti-Semitism in America.
Locally in West Orange, Dov Ben-Shimon, Executive VP/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ has announced a community rally at Temple B’nai Abraham at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, Sunday October 28. We are grateful to Police Chief Abbot and Mayor Parisi who immediately dispatched squad cars to our synagogues and Jewish institutions in the town this morning. They will have increased patrols in the immediate future, and we should all keep an extra eye out for unusual behavior. Their presence is a reminder of our close ties in the community and our town’s united stance against hate.
Please also note that as part of our last Department of Homeland Security grant, that our building has installed white police panic buttons at strategic locations throughout the building. Should a threatening event ever occur, and you push the button, the police will be immediately dispatched to our location. I will be holding a shabbat drill for our community in the near future to educate us all on the use of and response to the panic button and active shooter events.
While we are shaken and wary, there is no indication of specific threat against our community in New Jersey at this time, and we are open for regular meetings, classes, programs and services tomorrow morning.
Hamakom yenachem et kol avlei Tzion virushalayim – May God grant comfort to all our mourners at this horrible time.
Rabbi Robert Tobin