The faith community has united together to mourn the loss of 11 people killed during a mass shooting that took place at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday. It has been confirmed as the worst anti-semitic attack in U.S. history.
During Shabbat service, a lone gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood before screaming “all Jews must die!” and opening fire. He continued to shoot for around 20 minutes as terrified worshippers sought shelter from the relentless gunfire.
After police SWAT teams arrived and attempted to help victims, the gunman turned his attention toward them, wounding four officers, before being shot himself. As police cornered the wounded gunman in an upstairs room, he eventually crawled out and surrendered, again declaring to officers that “all these Jews need to die.”
As the community continues to reel from the horrific events of the weekend, Mayor Bill Peduto commented that this was the “darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history.” The victims ranged between age 54 and 97. Richard Gottfried, 65, and Daniel Stein, 71, attempted to hide in the kitchen, but were cornered when the gunman approached. They were both brutally murdered. Congregation co-president Stephen Cohen told The New York Times that there was “no place to hide” in there.
Cohen also noted that many lives had been saved due to the fact that several members of the synagogue’s leadership had been on active shooter drill courses, adding that “everyone froze but Rabbi Perlman.” He was convinced that the active-shooter drills were “what ultimately saved the people who were saved.”
Hundreds gathered together Sunday to mourn the loss of so many innocent lives. The scenes were heartbreaking, but the solidarity was clear for all to see.
“You’re going to see an outpouring of love and support and a strengthened community. Not just the Jewish community, but Pittsburgh as a whole,” said 34-year-old Molly Butler, who attended the vigil with her children. And that is exactly what occurred as hundreds paid their respects, many forced to stand outside Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in the drizzling rain.
“What happened yesterday will not break us. It will not ruin us,” said an emotional Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, leader of New Light Congregation, which also worshipped in the synagogue. “We will continue to thrive and sing and worship and learn together.”
Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett also attended the ceremony in Pittsburgh, boldly reading some of the victims’ names out loud.
“Eleven souls. Eleven innocent lives brutally cut short. We stand here in your memories,” said Bennett, who flew in from Israel on Saturday after hearing news of the shooting.
Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill, Montgomery County was another Jewish community that joined together in mourning following the horrific attack, with many people also filling the Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.
“When you don’t have words to say, and words aren’t going to be enough, what do you do when you come together?” asked Rabbi Seth Haaz of Har Zion Temple. “And how do you find action items to really help out those who are suffering when it’s too early to really know what the needs are going to be?”
Many remarked on the necessity of Americans coming together at times of such senseless violence and evil.
“We as Jews and Americans, we must come together and realize that this is something that is really tragic that took place,” Evette Mittin of Lower Merion Township said, as reported by WPVI-TV.
Mourner Jeff Brotman added that he felt like he was at a funeral. “In fact, we are at a funeral of sorts,” he added. “A memorial service.”
As for the Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, leader of the Tree of Life congregation, his reflection on the massacre was haunting yet hopeful.