Elmont Jewish Center Rabbi Chaim Blachman described the horrific sensation of broken hearts and fear within the Jewish community in the wake of the mass shooting at a Pennsylvania synagogue that took place over the weekend.
Shortly before 10 a.m., on Oct. 27, Richard Bowers walked into the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and opened fire. Bowers, 46, according to multiple reports, had posted an anti-Jewish message is posted on his Gab social media account that read: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” he said. “Screw your optics, I'm going in.” That was at 9:49 a.m.
Five minutes later a 911 call was made to the Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center about an active shooter. Police were dispatched. Shots were exchanged. Bullets from Bowers AR-15 assault rifle and possibly three handguns struck 17 people, killing 11 and injuring six, including four police officers. His words after being taken into custody according to police were, “All these Jews need to die.”
Blachman expressed grieve for the victims and thanked the four officers for their service and willingness to protect their Jewish community. He also described Bowers’s hatred as “cold-blooded, fanatical and baseless,” but reminded Elmont’s Jewish community to keep their faith alive during these tragedies.
“Today more than ever, we need to spread love and unity; positivity and light,” Blachman said. “We must continue to walk to our synagogues proudly. And, even as we grieve and mourn, we must increase exponentially our acts of goodness and kindness,”
Bowers, who was also shot, was charged by federal officials with 29 criminal counts, including obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs — a hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder. He also faces state charges, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.
Immediately after news of the shooting broke, many took to social media, especially Twitter to react to the mass shooting. It was the 294th such incident this year in the United States.
Anti-Semitism appeared to be a motive for the shooting, Bowers targeted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for his ire. It is a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees. The Anti-Defamation League has reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. have risen by 57 percent in 2017 from 1,267 in 2016 to 1,986. The largest increase since the ADL began tracking in 1979.
Only once since 1979 has the ADL recorded more incidents: 2,066 in 1994. Since then, the incidents had mostly declined. There were small increases in 2014 and 2015. Then, in 2016, the count began to rise.
To help comfort the Jewish community in “this extraordinarily challenging times,” Blachman asked for his congregation to come together and pray for the victims and for an end to the hatred that plagues their community. He felt that every synagogue should be filled in the coming weeks to stand in solidarity with the people of Pittsburg and prove that they would not be overtaken by fear.
“Even if we haven't done so regularly, let’s attend synagogue together and show the world that our synagogues are filled with vibrancy, love and life,” Blachman said.