Port Washington remembers victims in Pittsburgh, PA



Policemen surround the Tree of Life synagogue following the tragic shooting that occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Mia Steinberg, Staff Writer

On Oct. 27, tragedy struck the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Robert Bowers, a 46 year old man from Pennsylvania, entered the synagogue and opened fire on those who were there observing Shabbat, killing 11 people and injuring six more, making this shooting the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

Four of the six injured were police officers who had responded to the shooting.  Bowers has been charged with 11 counts of murder and various hate crimes, including the obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Bowers specifically targeted the Tree of Life synagogue because of its support for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).  HIAS helps not just Jewish immigrants, but anyone who is struggling to come to America to live a better life.  

Bowers had been posting anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rants on the social media site Gab, where there are few restrictions on what a person can say.  The site has attracted many extremists, including white nationalists and neo-Nazis, who have been banned from other sites.

In response to this event, Port Washington has shown its support for the Jewish community and for HIAS.  The day after the shooting, four synagogues in Port Washington, including Temple Beth Israel, Community Synagogue, the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore (RSNS), and Port Jewish Center, came together to hold a solidarity service to mourn those killed and to stand up against hate. 

“The solidarity service was an experience unlike any other.  Hundreds gathered to pray and remember.  The prayers, songs, and readings were all touching and meaningful.  What was most awe-inspiring and heartwarming for me was seeing our entire community rise up against hatred, and not just those who were targeted.  To watch as our leaders from all faiths and backgrounds gathered together to take a stand against what was wrong gave me new appreciation for the power of a loving, caring neighbor and a meaningful smile,” said freshman Hannah Brooks, who attended the solidarity service. 

At the solidarity service, the entire Port Washington community, Jews and non-Jews alike, were invited to come to demonstrate unity.  Many clergy members from other religions came to show support. 

One week after the shooting, the synagogues also participated in #showupforshabbat services, which took place in synagogues across the country, and had the goal of honoring and remembering those who lost their lives as a result of this hate crime. 

Students have various opinions as to why an increase of anti-Semitic acts is occurring in America.  Some blame the current administration.  

“I think it is a real issue in our society and I believe the current leadership has some responsibility for the increase in anti-Semitism,” said freshman Aaron Damsky, who also attended solidarity service.

While the threat of anti-Semitism may be frightening to many students, some of them expressed that they have been inspired to stand up for their beliefs and will not shy away from the issue. 

“I personally feel that as a Jewish teen growing up in a time period when anti-Semitism unfortunately still exists, it is crucial to stand up for what we know is right.  I felt empowered when I saw the incredible response and cooperation of not only the Jewish people, but of many other groups who had memorial services for those killed.  Sitting in my synagogue after the shooting, surrounded by my peers and leaders of my community, I felt both extremely saddened and inspired.  Seeing how our community came together, I feel that instead of staying silent, now is out time to proudly fight for what we believe in.  Now, more than ever, I feel proud to be a Jew,” said senior Sophie Roth. 

Many people in Port Washington are still scared, there is no doubt in that.  In fact, at the memorial service at RSNS, the police were present and the back entrances and side doors were all locked. All of this was done so that people would feel safe in the synagogue. 

Leaders of the Jewish community have tried to understand what occurred in Pittsburgh and help the community cope in the aftermath.

“The recent rise in hate crimes is very upsetting.  While many different groups have been targeted, the hate crimes against Jews is way up.  Anti-Semitism is difficult to understand.  Why do some people hate Jews?  There are a lot of possible answers, but regardless of the answer, it’s a painful realization that anti-Semitism continues to exist,” said Rabbi Michael Mishkin of Temple Beth Israel.  “Thankfully, there have been very few anti-Semitic acts in Port Washington.  There have been a few and the police, the Jewish community, and the larger Port Washington community, have denounced them.  That is very important.  The shootings in Pittsburgh were horrific and tragic.  One of the ways that that specific act of hate has affected synagogues in Port Washington is that all of the synagogues are increasing their security measures.”

Port Washington is a generally accepting community, and there have been relatively few acts of anti-Semitism in our town.  Nevertheless, this recent attack has opened many students’ eyes and has made them reevaluate what their Judaism means to them.

“I’ve always known that anti-Semitism has existed in America, but this recent attack has been a huge shock.  I not only feel scared, but I now know that my Judaism is threatened and I have to be afraid when I go to temple.  I think that now more than ever we need to express our Judaism- pray, study, and discuss our culture,” said senior Hannah Roth.