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In Pittsburgh, thousands gather to mourn victims

People enter the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh to attend a memorial service for victims of the Oct. 27 mass shooting at a city synagogue. (Ron Kampeas)

People enter the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh to attend a memorial service for victims of the Oct. 27 mass shooting at a city synagogue. (Ron Kampeas)

By Jessica Resnick-Ault and Chriss Swaney, The Forward

Some 2,500 people gathered on Sunday at a memorial service for the 11 Jewish worshipers slain in their Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat services, a mass murder the mayor called the city’s “darkest hour” while exhorting mourners to “defeat hate with love.”

Several speakers addressing an overflow crowd at the University of Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Hall sounded themes of inclusion and unity, in counterpoint to the rise of toxic political discourse widely seen as creating an atmosphere conducive to violence.

“What happened yesterday will not break us. It will not ruin us. We will continue to thrive and sing and worship and learn together and continue our historic legacy in the city with the friendliest people that I know,” Rabbi Jonathan Perlman told the interfaith audience.

Three members of his congregation were among those killed when a man armed with an assault rifle and three handguns on Saturday stormed the Tree of Life temple in the city’s heavily Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on worshipers.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly victims who were killed, six people, including four police officers, were wounded before the suspect was arrested. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalized in critical condition.

The massacre marked the deadliest attack ever on America’s Jewish community, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic messages online, has been charged under federal hate crime statutes, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

This is the darkest hour in our city’s history,” Mayor Bill Peduto declared during Sunday’s service. “But here’s another thing about Pittsburgh. We are resilient. We will work together as one. We will defeat hate with love. We will be a city of compassion and we will be welcoming to all people,” he said to cheers.

The auditorium of the Soldiers and Sailors Hall, a venue that seats more than 2,300, was filled to capacity with hundreds more people gathered outside the building.

The names of the dead were released hours earlier. They included David Rosenthal, 54; his brother Cecil Rosenthal, 59; Sylvan Simon, 86, and his wife Bernice Simon, 84; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69. The eldest victim was Rose Mallinger, 97.

She was among five of the slain who lived in Squirrel Hill, a quiet, leafy district with a large Jewish population. The community also was home to the late Fred Rogers, whose long-running children’s television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” featured lessons on friendship and kindness.

The remaining victims were from other parts of Pittsburgh, the second-largest city in Pennsylvania after Philadelphia.

The mass shooting sparked security alerts at houses of worship around the country and condemnation from politicians and religious leaders.

Some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of US President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

Trump, who quickly branded Saturday’s shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred, was already facing similar criticism ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections following a spate of pipe bombs mailed last week to some of his most prominent critics. The targets, mostly Democrats, included former US President Barack Obama.

“Honestly I think this president’s whole modus operandi is to divide us. He gets up in the morning with new and inventive ways to divide us,” US Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is Jewish, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast on Sunday.

Trump told reporters the killings might have been prevented if there had been an armed guard. Synagogue officials said police would only normally have been present for security on high holidays.

US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Fox News Sunday that federal officials visited the Pittsburgh synagogue in March to provide training on active-shooter responses.

The mayor said on Sunday that keeping guns out of the hands of irrational people was a better way to prevent violence.

FBI Special Agent Robert Jones told a news conference he did not know why Bowers had targeted the Tree of Life synagogue.

Authorities believe the suspect entered the synagogue, opened fire on worshipers and was fleeing when he encountered a police officer, Jones said. The two exchanged gunfire, he said, and Bowers reentered the building before a police tactical squad arrived.

Bowers surrendered and was taken to a hospital where he was listed in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds.

Federal prosecutors charged Bowers late on Saturday with 29 criminal counts including violating U.S. civil rights laws.

Bowers’ virulent anti-Semitic views were evident in prolific online postings. In one, early on Saturday, he wrote that a Jewish refugee group, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

He is due to make his first court appearance on Monday afternoon before a federal judge in Pittsburgh.

This article was reposted from The Forward with permission

One thought on “In Pittsburgh, thousands gather to mourn victims

  1. Rob Alexander

    My comments are not directed at IJN but the Forward where this piece of garbage originated.
    It was amazing to see how the “uniters” and “peacemakers” marched in Pittsburgh against the so-called “Great Divider”, screamed at the top of their feeble lungs and sent hate emails to Rabbi Myers for welcoming our President. Yet your scribblers (Forward) try to justify such behavior a priori because when it is directed against Pres. Trump it must be explained away.
    Let’s consider – our beloved ex-rapist in the White House, aka Bill Clinton, recently shared the stage with renowned Philo-Semite Louis Farrakhan; Ex-Pres. Barack Hussein Obama Soetoro was photographed in about 2005 in a jolly encounter with the same “Jew-Lover” Farrakhan – the pic remained hidden until after he had completed his 2nd term, just in case anti-Semites wouldn’t appreciate his cozy relationship with Farrakhan.
    I hope that even your low IQ reviewers will recognize the sarcasm above. But I am still waiting to hear anything but deafening silence from you, my Jewish brethren on the left wing. I know when it comes to Hillary, Obama, FDR or even Woodrow Wilson everything can be ignored and explained away. Before I forget, whatever happened to justifiable outrage over abuse of a girl friend by closet anti-Semite Keith Ellison?
    In short, the stench of your quarter-intellectual dishonesty transcends even the low norms of the usual double standards applied by the Jewish leftists. It was, I believe, Dennis Prager who rightfully defined your “progressive” ilk as probably mostly ethnic Jews who have adopted left-wing ideologies as their religion, not Judaism (see their mostly anti-Israel bias).
    As an Israeli who served the nation I am ashamed to call your gang of 21st century Ghetto Jews, fellow members of my faith.


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