The plan for Shabbat morning on October 27th at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was something I would recognize as president of IJC. Or L’Simcha, one of the three congregations sharing the building, was holding its regular service but would top it off with a baby naming. What a nice way to introduce a new member of the congregation, draw in the family of the newborn and tighten the bonds linking all members. There would also probably be a nice celebratory kiddush. But events took another course and October 27th became a black day, a day of infamy.
An avowed anti-Semite raced into the building with several guns and started shooting. He was out to kill Jews. He shouted to the police “all Jews must die”. He killed in cold blood 11 congregants. Most of them were older, one as old as 97. In my mind’s eye, I can see them – the same age as my friends and parents – and imagine their last moments. This is very hard. They were all innocent victims. I must add that one of victims could have been our former IJC member George Wittenberg, a member of one of the other congregations sharing the building. He had planned to be at services that morning, but was not there when the gunman arrived.
This type of outrage is not unknown here. There have been murderous attacks on Jews in Belgium and neighboring France. In the aftermath, IJC received many messages of sympathy and support from American shuls which themselves exuded the type of self-confidence which comes when one lives without fear of attack. They had reason to feel that way. There were pledges from America’s founding of tolerance and safety for the Jewish community. In 1790 George Washington wrote to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island that “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Now the tables have turned. The lights have been put out at Or L’Simcha with the deadliest attack on Jews in US history. Our hearts are heavy with shock and grief. We mourn those killed. We pray for those wounded. We send out deepest sympathy. We embrace from afar Or L’Simcha and the other shuls sharing the Tree of Life building and hope they can - with time - overcome the trauma of October 27th.
The President of the IJC