The Times of Israel published a piece by B'nai B'rith International Director of EU Affairs Alina Bricman in which she reflects on her visit to Pittsburgh for the inaugural Eradicate Hate Summit, just ahead of the third anniversary of the Tree of Life tragedy.
Earlier this month, I visited Pittsburgh ahead of the anniversary of the Tree of Life tragedy.
Three years earlier, on October 27, 2018, a far-right extremist committed the deadliest attack against Jews in the history of the United States – killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger of blessed memory were beloved members of three different congregations. Other worshipers, as well as law enforcement officers and first responders, were seriously wounded. So too, the sense of safety of American Jewry.
The threat of antisemitic attacks is part of the day-to-day of Jewish life in Europe. Metal detectors and security guards are ubiquitous at all Jewish venues. A kippah is worn both with pride and with trepidation, as the numbers of recorded antisemitic incidents have steadily risen in recent years.
But the heart wrenching attack in Pittsburgh’s Squirrell Hill neighborhood – the same community Mr. Rogers’ spoke about – surfaced an unlikely question: Can Jews feel safe in the United States?
What I felt being in Pittsburgh was a reverberating communal “yes”.
U.S. statistics about Jews’ sense of safety mirror those in Europe. A large majority of Jews feel antisemitism is a real and present danger, a reflection of the staggering rise in violent incidents.
The resounding, collective “yes” from the Jewish community and its many allies in Pittsburgh is not ignorant to this reality – on the contrary – it is determined to overcome it: not just survive, but thrive – openly and without fear.
A community of solidarity
The outpouring of love and solidarity following the attack three years ago was experienced not only in Pittsburgh, but around the world. I was truly inspired. Yet in hindsight, I didn’t fully understand the nearly-universal show of support until I was there in person.
It’s been three years, but Squirrell Hill houses on every block still boast signs: Stronger Than Hate. The city symbol, the Steelmark – continues to lend one of its four-pointed starlike figures to a Star of David. At the Tree of Life Synagogue, a long fence surrounding the building is covered in drawings sent in from schools across the country, turning security into solidarity and inspiration.
I had the chance to see once again a full-page newspaper ad in memory of two victims, Cecil and David Rosenthal. It read: “The entire Rosenthal Family wishes to extend our sincerest thanks and gratitude to the Pittsburgh community and around the world for your outpouring of support and kindness. Your thoughts, prayers and kind gestures have given us strength to get through this difficult time.”
In the town of the Steelers – #PittsburghStrong has a new meaning, and it has nothing to do with metal. It’s a collective commitment to beat back hate.
The Eradicate Hate Global Summit
One of the ways in which this commitment materialized was the inaugural edition of the Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which took place just last week in Pittsburgh. This was an unprecedented effort to convene leading researchers, practitioners, journalists, law–makers and tech companies to develop collaborative and multidisciplinary responses to hate. Among speakers were UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Judge Theodor Meron, President and Judge, International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, heads of policy for major tech companies, and, most importantly, the family members of the Tree of Life victims, who were the driving force and beating heart of the event.
Panels explored novel civil and criminal law remedies to hate, the role of tech and the ability of the justice system to address extremism, the role of COVID-19 in accelerating hate, community preparedness, free speech protections, the role of art, and many more and diverse themes.
During the Summit, I had the opportunity to share insights from Europe as part of a panel reflecting on global government responses: the state of antisemitism, but also what’s being done, what works, what can be modeled elsewhere. I spoke about the new European Union (EU) Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, the collaborative approach between policy-makers and civil society, the significant advancements by EU legislators in placing liability on platforms through new reporting and due diligence obligations, important data collection commitments, and the Strategy’s cross-cutting approach, mainstreaming the topic across policy areas.
Antisemitism serves as a foundation for most conspiracy ideologies. It cuts across the political spectrum, is fueled by polarization, accelerated by algorithmic augmentation, and rests on Holocaust denial, distortion and trivialization. In that, antisemitism is ultimately the epitome of hate. Ensuring that experts in diverse fields understand it in its complexity is essential not only to providing a sense of safety and security for the global Jewish community, but to maintaining an open and democratic society all together – a premise that the Summit built on.
Now back home, taking stock, a key take away stands out beyond all others – the solidarity and kindness still emanating in Pittsburgh can serve as a motivating force for all of us.
Cleveland Jewish News: Jewish community, Pennsylvania governor reflect one year after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
The Cleveland Jewish News included B'nai B'rith's Pittsburgh Healing Fund in its coverage of the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
Almost a year since the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Jewish community has continued to offer reflections on the deadliest attack in American Jewish history.
“We observe on Sunday the anniversary of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history, in which 11 innocent people were murdered simply because they were Jews,” said the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in a statement. “We mourn the lives lost and the senseless carnage wrought one year ago. We stand in solidarity with the family and friends of those killed and injured, and the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community.”
“This tragedy ended the age of innocence for American Jewry. It can no longer be said that we are immune to the pandemic of anti-Semitism,” the statement continued. “We must learn from this tragedy and work to prevent further occurrences. Security at all communal institutions including synagogues, schools and centers must be enhanced while we maintain them as inviting and open facilities.”
The organization added, “As we mark this solemn occasion, words and condolences are not enough. There must be action from all sectors of government and society. Jews and non-Jews alike must unite against anti-Semitism in all its forms, at home and abroad, if the increasingly urgent threat of global Jew-hatred is to be confronted.”
B’nai B’rith International has raised money for its Pittsburgh Healing Fund and will be distributing the funds towards mental-health support for survivors and a program to assist first responders, including organizations such as the Jewish Family and Children Services of Pittsburgh.
The B’nai B’rith fund will also support a program to assist first responders.
“All Americans, including American Jews, have the right to expect our centers of worship to be safe havens where we can connect at once with our fellow faithful and the Divine,” said the Simon Wiesenthal Center in a statement. “It brings us great sadness that after that terrible day, so many Jews no longer feel safe in these precious and sacred gathering places.”
“Things have gotten worse, not better, since Pittsburgh. We will continue to fight this rising tide, partnering with our allies in law enforcement, education, the clergy and government,” continued SWC. “But what is most needed is the involvement of good-hearted people in every city, town, church and school who recognize the manifestations of anti-Semitism, both obvious and subtle, and are willing to speak up and say: No, not here, not with our children, not in our community.”
Responding to calls for more safety provisions, Pennsylvania state lawmakers included $3.2 million in funding and expanded safety opportunities for at-risk schools in the FY 2019-20 budget. Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to fund security personnel at nonpublic schools through the Safe Schools Targeted Grant Program and now, nearly five years later, the Commonwealth has expanded safety provisions to include security equipment and programs grants.
The police officers who were wounded in the shooting, who have since been back at work, have expressed appreciation to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community for its support.
’We need to stop violence using every tool possible’
“It’s difficult to believe a year as passed since the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue,” Gov. Tom Wolf told JNS. “I’ve carried sorrow for the victims, their families and the community as I sought to understand why this heinous attack occurred and how we can prevent anything like it from ever occurring again.”
Wolf honored the shooting’s victims last month while visiting Auschwitz in Poland, where he wrote their names in the memorial site’s guestbook. He also went to the Holocaust memorial in the Lithuanian town of Paneriai, where 70,000 Jews were killed. At each site, the governor carried the mezuzah that was on the office door of Tree of Life rabbi Jeffrey Myers.
The ornate mezuzah snapped when police broke down the door of the synagogue in their rescue efforts and to stop the suspect, Robert Bowers. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against him.
Wolf has signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 27 as an official day of remembrance, ordering state flags to half-staff one year after the attack. While state flags will be at half-staff, the U.S. flag will remain at full-staff.
“The shooting at Tree of Life synagogue revealed hate here in Pennsylvania. We need to do everything we can to stop it before it grows,” said Wolf. “We need to work together to prevent Pennsylvanians from being attacked due to bigotry, and we need to stop violence using every tool possible. That includes everything from programs supporting tolerance to legislation preventing future shootings.”
The synagogue has announced that it will reopen and continue to use the building as a place of worship. It will also utilize the space for classrooms, exhibits, social events and include a memorial to commemorate the lives lost in the mass shooting.
A date for the reopening has yet to be set. The building has not been in use since the shooting.
The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh, Pa. takes an in-depth look at a local chapter of the B'nai B'rith Bowling Association, which has been rolling in western Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years.
The club bowls every Wednesday night at Fun Fest in Harmarville, Pa., beginning at 8 p.m. Current league members range in age from 20-75.
Read highlights from the article, below:
In Harmarville on Wednesday nights, a group of Jewish men bowl. For many of them, this has been common practice for well over three decades.
The bowlers are affiliated with the International B’nai B’rith Bowling Association. For years, between 10 and 15 members of the local group traveled to the International B’nai B’rith Bowling Tournament.
Throughout the year, the group throws multiple social events. In the past, bowling-themed stag parties have occurred at Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill, area restaurants or Rivers Casino. At the end of the year, the group hosts a banquet and awards prize money to members.
During the season, bowling occurs on Wednesday nights at Fun Fest in Harmarville, 2525 Freeport Road. Prospective members can contact Neustein at 412-422-2782 for more information.
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