Local Jewish families concerned for safety in wake of Pittsburgh attack


Emily Lotito

Memorial for the lives lost at Tree of Life Synagogue

by Emily Lotito, Reporter

On October 27, the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue was attacked during their morning Shabbat service. The shooter open fired while yelling anti-Semitic slurs. This shooting was the deadliest single act of antisemitism in the United States. Eleven members of the congregation were killed and four police officers were wounded. People all over the world have sent their condolences.

Antisemitism is the hostility or prejudice against Jewish people, and history of prejudice extends to early history.

Having the public read about the love and support for the Jewish community doesn’t change some people’s minds on anti-Semitic acts. From 2001 to today, there have been 48 attacks of synagogues and Jewish communal organizations around the world.

Pittsburgh’s Response

Pittsburgh has channeled its grief into action. Almost 100 members of the Steelers organization including President Art Rooney II and head coach Mike Tomlin went to the funerals to honor their communities relations manager, Michele Rosenthal who lost her two brothers from the shooting.

That Sunday before their game against Cleveland Browns, there was a moment of silence for the lives lost. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also had custom cleats with a new logo that was made to honor the victims. Artist Tim Hindes created the logo by changing the yellow star in the Steelers logo to the Jewish Star of David. He wrote “Stronger than Hate” across the toe part of the cleat. Also defensive end Cam Heyward wore a shirt that had a heart around Pittsburgh during warm ups.

Other NFL teams have showed their respect for the victims in Pittsburgh. On November 4, the Ravens and Steelers played during Week 9. Before the kickoff, Ravens held a moment of silence for the victims. On their LED boards it said “Baltimore stands with Pittsburgh.”  New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is Jewish wore a baseball hat with the Star of David.

CBS Sports reported on Edelman, “I’m letting the people of Pittsburgh know that I’m thinking about them. I’m sending vibes and they are in our prayers. It was a big hit to the community, and it’s uncalled for. So, I’m just letting them know: I’m behind and I’m supporting,”

Having people isolated by their religion, race, or ethnicity doesn’t solve problems. It creates more problems. The Jewish community has been opening its doors inviting everyone who would like to share their grief about the shooting. On October 28 in Gainesville, Florida, Synagogue B’nai Israel held services to mourn the lives lost. 

Jordan Dern talked to Gainesville Sun News about his close friend. “It is, to me, no surprise that Danny’s name was first on the list. Danny was not the type to sit and watch,”

With the spotlight shining on the shooting, does it really help? As a member of the Jewish community, having the spotlight is wonderful and that people care and support us. But that’s not going to stop people from feeling anti Semitic towards the Jewish community. Having better security in synagogues and schools is something that needs to be pushed because this could happen again and it’s scary to think about but it needs to be brought up.

Local Jewish Response

For many Jewish people, prejudice is part of their daily lives.

“Where I grew up in Chicago, my high school was around 30% Jewish so I never dealt with antisemitism personally. But when I came here, there wasn’t a large amount of people here but there is a good amount. I don’t know if kids do hear stuff here but personally, I have never heard any anti-Semitic words.” said Rabbi Stratford, the head of a Frederick, Maryland congregation.

Rabbi Simon Stratford is the Rabbi for Kol Ami. Rabbi Stratford has been with Kol Ami for almost two years now and has enjoyed the reform community of the congregation. A reform community is not as strict as Orthodox communities.

Rabbi Stratford talked about the security of the congregation and how they want to improve the safety of the members during services.

“At Kol Ami, we are having conversations on security and how we can make our members feel more safe and have less anxiety while at services and school. We are working with the sheriff’s department about maybe having a cop car on patrol near us when we have services. But with the holidays coming up, we will have someone in the building.”

He said “We are taking small less expensive steps like locking the door 15 minutes into services and being more vigilant. It’s expensive to have more security but we are taking small steps towards safety.”

What Happens When the Holocaust is just a Memory?

One reason for the uptick in antisemitism is the increasingly distant memory of the horrors of the Holocaust. One Holocaust survivor escaped his death for the second time in his life. Judah Samet, a member of the Tree of Life Congregation was late to services the day of the shooting. Samet was sitting in his car when the attack happened. He talked to The Washington Post and talked about the things racing in is mind during the attack. Also all the anti-Semitic violence that happened in his home country, Hungry.

Judah Samet also talked about how that he realizes that most of the Holocaust survivors are  passing away. Their stories won’t be heard.

Samet said, “About 7 or 8 years ago, I looked around and noticed most of the survivors were in their 90’s and that pretty soon there wouldn’t be anyone else in Pittsburgh to talk.”

The country and others are losing sight of the most horrific war in history. Fewer people talk about the holocaust and less people seem to care. Others are still apologizing fro not interfering in the war fast enough to save the lives of thousands. 

Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau apologized to the Canadian Jewish community on November 7. Prime Minister Trudeau apologized for the government turning away the landing right of MS St. Louis. The boat held thousands of Jews looking for refuge from the war. But they kept getting turned down by Mexico, the US, and then Canada. The boat was sent back to Europe where 245 passengers were killed.

What’s going to happen long term? One thing is for sure. The Jewish community has been working with the FBI on how to protect congregations and schools. Smaller reform congregations like Kol Ami have been working with their board members on how to prevent attacks on their temples. Hopefully nothing happens but if so, they will be prepared.