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A week after Pittsburgh shooting, hundreds #ShowUpForShabbat

Two girls lean over the balcony rail at Squirrel Hill’s Beth Shalom Congregation, which held a community Shabbat service Nov. 3, 2018, on the one-week anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in the Pittsburgh neighborhood. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

PITTSBURGH (RNS) — At 9:52 a.m., they stood in silence in the cavernous sanctuary of Congregation Beth Shalom in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood here, less than a mile from the Tree of Life synagogue, where at 9:52 last Saturday (Oct. 27), a gunman had begun shooting.

Then they sat down to continue the litany of prayers and Torah readings that Jews have recited for generations.

Dressed formally in ties, jackets and dresses, and carrying babies in tow, these Jews wanted to send a message that they are proud of their faith and will not cower in fear in the wake of what has been described as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.  Eleven people were killed.

Earlier in the week, Robert Bowers, a truck driver from the Baldwin borough of Pittsburgh, pleaded not guilty in a federal courtroom to 44 counts, including hate crimes and using a firearm to commit murder in a crime of violence.

The Shabbat service at Beth Shalom was part of a nationwide initiative by the advocacy group AJC, #ShowUpForShabbat, encouraging Jews to come together in response to the horrific massacre.

There was also healing work to take care of.

A stained-glass window at Congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, pictured Nov. 3, 2018, bears the words of the Ten Commandments. The top line says “Do not kill.” RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

After members from among Tree of Life’s three congregations took turns reading the Torah portion for the day, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of Tree of Life, stood up to give the sermon. He wanted to explain to a largely — but not exclusively — liberal Jewish community why he welcomed President Trump, who visited Pittsburgh along with First Lady Melania Trump on Tuesday.

First he pointed out that the day’s Torah portion offered wonderful examples of goodness, kindness and respect in the story of how Isaac takes Rebecca as his wife.

“I will not let anyone tell me how to welcome a guest to my house,” Myers said, responding to what he said were dozens of emails and calls from Jews angry that he had welcomed a president they believe condones white nationalism.

“I may not agree with some of the things any president ever says,” Myers explained. “That’s my right as an American. But I don’t have the right to spew hate. Hate does not belong in this country.”

He also said the president’s personal assistant as well as Jared Kushner, the president’s adviser and son-in-law, have called to ask how he was coping in days after the visit.

Despite some anger at the president’s visit — protesters with signs that said “Words matter” and “President Hate is not welcome in our state” marched outside as the Trumps made their visit — Myers was warmly received at Beth Shalom and was given a standing ovation at the end of his sermon.

Myers was at Tree of Life as the shooting began and was among the first to call 911 at 9:52 a.m. on that morning after he ran upstairs and found safety in a bathroom.

A father and his two sons walk home from synagogue Nov. 3, 2018, on Douglas Street in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

On Friday night, Tree of Life congregants gathered for the first time since the shooting for a service in the chapel of Rodeph Shalom, a Reform temple in the adjacent neighborhood of Shadyside, where they will continue meeting until their sanctuary is repaired. It is still an FBI crime scene.

At other services across the city, Muslims and Christians joined in the prayers to show their support.

“I never thought I’d say this, but ‘thoughts and prayers’ feel great,” said David Chudnow, volunteer manager at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, who participated in the events.

The Friendship Circle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to people with special needs, rented a tent outside its Squirrel Hill office and fed 350 people Friday as a gesture of unity.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald attended the feast of chicken, sesame noodles, green beans, fruit crisp and of course, challah, the traditional bread eaten on Shabbat.

Many came to Pittsburgh to join the embrace of the Jewish community.

“I’m here to hold people up and create a space for people to feel in community,” said Sam Sittenfield, a New York City-based program manager for Repair the World, a Jewish organization that cosponsored the event.

“You feel it at a gut level — that Shabbat is a time to get together,” said Sam Adiv of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was in Pennsylvania on a business trip and decided to swing by Pittsburgh to join the Jews of Squirrel Hill this weekend.

“Part of the power is that we help each other ride out the hills and valleys, the good and the bad,” said Adiv. “One of the most important things we can do is show up.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

11 Comments

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  • I like that very much, what “Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of TREE OF LIFE”, preached to Libs & Progs Everywhere Inc. – “I will not let anyone tell me how to welcome [Donald Trump] a guest to my house”! But nah, this ain’t that same old, same old meme & holy troll per the usual. For this, ladies & gentlemen – moving on – is … drum roll, please …

    FOR FOREVER THE TREE OF LIFE !

    (1) “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to THE TREE OF LIFE, and may enter by the gates into the city. … I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
    – REVELATION 22:14, 16.

    (2) “We are deeply grieved by the anti-Semitic attack which claimed 11 of our brothers and sisters, and we stand in solidarity with TREE OF LIFE Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
    – JEWS FOR JESUS.

    (3) “May their memory be a blessing: – Joyce Fienberg, 75 – Richard Gottfried, 65 – Rose Mallinger, 97 – Jerry Rabinowitz, 66 – Cecil Rosenthal, 59 – David Rosenthal, 54 – Bernice Simon, 84 – Sylvan Simon, 86 – Daniel Stein, 71 – Melvin Wax, 87 – Irving Younger, 69. At B’rit Hadasha, we stand with our Jewish community. We mourn with them and we commit to remember, grieve and pray for our Jewish community and for the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the unspeakable tragedy at THE TREE OF LIFE Synagogue in Pittsburgh.”
    – B’RIT HADASHA MESSIANIC SYNAGOGUE.

  • Wonderful top photo. We could argue that the two little girls symbolize all of what religion is supposed to be for and about. They are a super foreground for the backdrop below them, no?

  • Did you “#ShowUpForShabbat”? Or did you & I just not see each other there? You must’ve glanced toward my direction when I got floored at the Kodak Moment “Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of TREE OF LIFE”, preached to Libs & Progs Everywhere Inc. – “I will not let anyone tell me how to welcome [my President Donald Trump] a guest to my house”!

    Glad you TiredCatholic[s] observe Saturday Mass on “Shabbat”, though. I give you that, because as you know, unlike TirelessEvangelicals, albeit kindred in Holy Spirit, but like fellow Jews By Race and Religion, Messianic Judaism believers religiously observe the “Shabbat” on, well, the “Shabbat”.

  • I know the Blindness Feature prevents FiendishGoatherd, all senti-MENTAL here, from reading this Non-“Reply” of mine, but, hey, you’re reading this right now, so as my fellow Desert Nomads in Christendom would say, That’s cool!

    Apropos, that was a Kodak Moment, alright. But that was time-stamped precisely when “Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of TREE OF LIFE”, preached to Libs & Progs Everywhere Inc. – “I will not let anyone tell me how to welcome [my President Donald Trump] a guest to my house”! And when I instantly shouted back, Amen & Amen!

    Yah mahn, check dem video capture on dat, mahn. C’est moi! C’est moi! There’s even an audio trace of my going, BWAHAHA, there.

  • You’re right. This TiredCatholic went to the Anticipated Mass on Saturday night, and was all that day beforehand, in an internet-free zone! I like Rabbi Myers comment, as you did.

  • Far-Right Internet Groups Listen for Trump’s Approval, and Often Hear It
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/04/us/politics/far-right-internet-trump.html
    These activists cheered when Mr. Trump suggested that the Jewish billionaire George Soros could be secretly funding a caravan of Latin American migrants — a dog-whistle reference to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that has been advanced by neo-Nazis and white nationalists for years. They roared their approval when Mr. Trump began stirring up fears of angry, violent left-wing mobs, another far-right boogeyman. And they have found traces of their ideas in Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, including his concern for an obscure land rights conflict involving white farmers in South Africa and his references to asylum-seeking migrants as “invaders.”

    “There’s this feedback loop between Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and right-wing extremist movements,” said Sophie Bjork-James, an assistant professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University who has studied far-right extremism. “They’re not all supportive of Trump, but his language does give them ideas that then circulate online in extremist social media spaces.”

    Mr. Trump’s remarks had legitimized a decades-old, obscure issue for white nationalists.

    Even when Mr. Trump denounces extremism, many of his supporters online see it as a begrudging concession, rather than an expression of his true beliefs. Last weekend, as Mr. Trump spoke about the dangers of anti-Semitism in the wake of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, internet bigots reassured each other that Mr. Trump was still on their side.

  • No, really? “Mr. Trump spoke about the dangers of anti-Semitism in the wake of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh”? No, really?

    Like this, then?

    “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America. To anyone who acted criminally in … racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.​ … As a candidate I promised to restore law and order to our country, and our federal law enforcement agencies are following through on that pledge. We will spare no resource in fighting so that every American child can grow up free from violence and fear. We will defend and protect the sacred rights of all Americans and we will work together so that every citizen in this blessed land is free to follow their dreams, in their hearts, and to express the love and joy in our souls.”
    – US President Donald Trump, August 14, 2017.

  • Speaking of you speaking of Sophie Bjork-James speaking of “feedback loop”, here’s a “feedback” from one of her students:

    According to RateMyProfessors, October 8, 2018, “Sophie Bjork-James, Professor in the Anthropology department at CUNY York College, Jamaica, NY [was rated] AVERAGE … This class was an easy A and the professor seems very nice; however she doesnt actually teach and is pretty erratic with her schedule and syllabus. The professor basically assigns group discussions in class at the beginning and then has each group present to the rest of the class so there is no lecture and we never learn directly from her.”

    Except, that is, Spuddie here, caught up in her “feedback loop” and trapped inside her echo chamber. GOOD. Stay there.

  • Neither a denisl or a refutation of my article cited. But a good sign you have nothing of substance to say.

    You must get tired running cover for mass murderers

  • Multiple responses to the same post is an act of desperation in your part It’s not for debate. Nazis consider Trump their own. He brings them in his staff.

    Trump has never denounced bigotry except begrudgingly, after being grilled for saying something stupid.

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