Days after the tragedy, the country is still reeling from the shooting that left 11 people dead at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.
The Allegheny County emergency operations center was called about an active shooter at 9:54 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. By 9:55 a.m., officers were on the way to the scene. The gunman now faces 29 charges, 11 of which are related to committing murder with a gun, and two of which are related to hate crimes: “Obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.”
The gunman entered the place of worship after numerous threatening social media posts online to Gab, a website preferred over (but similar to) Twitter by some due to its reduced censorship and monitoring. He had previously posted comments including ethnic slurs for Jewish people and the variety of guns he owned. Just before 10 a.m. on the day of the crime, he posted, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” and prefaced his coming attack with, “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Despite hateful comments, including being outspoken against immigrants, he has made it clear in the past that he was not a supporter of Trump.
In an email sent out by UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, he expressed heartfelt sadness and regret about the aftermath of the event and the state of the country as a whole. The content of the email emphasized the importance of community, unity, strength, love, and peaceful and respectful cohabitation. Hrabowski refers to “Tikka Olam—repairing the world,” and makes a call for everyone to contribute to the work. He ends the message by citing sources for support and discussion at UMBC.
Anti-Semitic crimes have been on the rise, with a spike of 57 percent between 2016 and 2017. Crime, instances of harassment, vandalism and assaults, increased from 1,267 to 1,986 reports. Such incidents have also spiked in K-12 grade schools from 235 to 457 and on college campuses from 108 to 204 in the 2016 to 2017 year, according to data from the Anti-Defamation League. The five states with the highest Jewish populations are New York, California, New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Michael Eisenberg, the most recent former president of the Tree of Life synagogue, commented on the event, saying that “only on the high holidays is there a police presence at the the entrance” of the temple. Trump said about the occurrence, “If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop [the gunman].”
Of the 11 victims of the shooting, all were 55 years of age and above. The oldest person killed was a 97-year-old woman, Robin Friedman, who had earlier been misidentified by media outlets as a Holocaust survivor. A fellow congregation member said, “She had a lot of years left.”
Robert Morris, ’22, Ancient Studies, spoke at UMBC about his Jewish faith and about what happened at the Tree of Life. He talked about unity and our many similarities as human beings, saying, “We’re all people. We all breathe the same air, eat the same food… I introduced the idea that the biggest fuel of hate is ignorance and that the only way to combat ignorance is through knowledge.”
The Rabbinical Assembly released a statement addressing the incident as a facet of the growing anti-Semitic sentiment: “This mass murder is a reminder that anti-Semitism is on the rise in America at a rate unprecedented in decades. This vicious hate crime, perpetrated against innocent people at prayer is but the latest in an escalating scourge of hate-based violence in America.” The statement continued, “An act of hate against one community was an act of hate against all.”