President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will visit Pittsburgh on Oct. 30, in the wake of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
One of the synagogue’s rabbis, Jeffrey Myers, said the president is welcome to visit the house of worship, where 11 people were killed and six others were wounded on Oct. 27, by a gunman with a history of hatred toward Jews.
At a rally in Illinois on Oct. 27, Trump called the massacre “an assault on humanity,” adding that anti-Semitism must be “confronted and condemned everywhere it rears its very ugly head.”
The alleged gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, who was wounded in a gunfight with police, made a stony-faced and largely silent appearance on Oct. 29 in a federal courtroom, where he was ordered held without bond.
He was charged with 29 federal counts that include obstructing the free exercise of religious belief resulting in death–a federal hate crime–and using a firearm to commit murder, which could lead to his execution if found guilty. Bowers, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, will get a court-appointed attorney and was remanded to the custody of U.S. marshals. His next hearing is set for Nov. 1.
At an interfaith memorial service held on Oct. 28, the rabbis from Tree of Life urged mourners to embrace tolerance and unity, while the city’s mayor vowed to “defeat hate with love.”
Themes of inclusion and compassion dominated the speeches delivered to an overflow crowd of some 2,500 at the University of Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Hall.
The “Stronger Together” service opened with a performance by a Baptist gospel choir and included remarks by Christian and Muslim clergy, but it was largely led by Myers and two fellow rabbis representing the three Jewish congregations who used the synagogue targeted in the carnage.
“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,” said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, choking back tears.
Unity and Support
The gunshots that tore through the synagogue first triggered lockdowns in houses of worship across Pittsburgh, then they brought forth an outpouring of unity and support. Residents rushed to provide comfort, give blood, organize vigils and bring therapy dogs to a Jewish community center.
Tree of Life is home to three congregations in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Jewish community.
Word of the shooting spread quickly through the community. For some, the news arrived with text messages and phone calls. In corners of the community where cellphones were turned off during the Sabbath, it arrived nearly as quickly by word of mouth.
That was the case at the nearby Chabad congregation, where the service continued, but with someone monitoring the door during what is traditionally an open event. One congregant, a chaplain, walked out to pray.
“Community is the greatest asset,” said Rabbi Yisroel Altein of Chabad. “Everybody being here for each other and looking to dispel the dark with the light.”
Squirrel Hill is known for inclusivity, for friendliness and for its connection to the late television personality Fred Rogers, who attended a church there, residents said. It’s a place where drivers use a “Pittsburgh left,” yielding to oncoming traffic wanting to turn.
After the shooting, turnout at services across the city swelled. As soon as the Sabbath ended, members of Orthodox congregations and others who had been unable to attend the earlier vigil gathered. They stood outside of Tree of Life, or L’Simcha, and read psalms.
The following day, children attended traditional Sunday school classes at other congregations under the watch of neighborhood police. About 100 clergy, lay leaders, and volunteers gathered at the Jewish Community Center to discuss how to move forward and make arrangements for many funerals at the same time. In Judaism, the dead traditionally need to be buried within 24 hours, so other congregations came forward to offer space.
After the meeting, volunteers brought over a dozen therapy dogs to help console those in pain.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Bill Scherlis, who lives just a few blocks from the synagogue and has been to events there, went to a candlelight vigil nearby on Oct. 27 that was arranged by high school students and attended by hundreds of people.
When word of the shooting spread, Scherlis said, the streets became “quite suddenly” full of neighbors who came out to stand together arm in arm.
“The spirit is so strongly felt,” he said. “This community response is in sharp contrast to the horror of the events.”
Reuters contributed to this report.