Campus responds to shooting at Pittsburgh synagogue
A gunman since identified as Robert Bowers opened fire during Shabbat services in the Tree of Life Congregation Jewish synagogue of Pittsburg Saturday morning.
The shooting, which occurred during a Jewish ceremony celebrating the birth of a baby boy, resulted in 11 deaths and seven non-fatal injuries, including the shooter.
Chancellor Mark Wrighton released a statement to the Washington University student body in an email later that afternoon. Twenty-two percent of the student body identifies as Jewish, according estimates by Hillel. In his statement, Wrighton directly characterized the attack as one driven by hate.
“This was a calculated, anti-Semitic attack driven by hate,” Wrighton wrote. “This should not happen anywhere. Certainly, not in this country where the freedom to believe and to pray in one’s own way—or to choose not to—is so core to our nation’s values. All of us must stand together against hate, bigotry and prejudice.”
Hillel’s campus rabbi, Jordan Gerson, received a text message making him aware of the attack Saturday morning as he was on his way to Shabbat services. Gerson contacted the Washington University Police Department, which worked with Hillel to provide additional security at the synagogue.
“We just increased patrols,” Gerson said. “They call it a soft presence, where it’s not as visible as having armed guards.”
Gerson agreed with Wrighton’s description of the shooting as an anti-Semitic attack, and Gerson believes that this is a wake-up call for the Jewish community.
“By and large, it’s gone unchecked for a long time, and I think Jewish communities need to stand vigilant against anti-Semitism and speak out when we see it,” Gerson said.
Sunday evening, Hillel hosted a community gathering in response to the event where they encouraged the University community to come together in support of Judaism and of one another.
“I think there’s a lot of power in community,” Gerson said. “There’s a lot of power in finding comfort in others and talking.”
“Although it’s early in the mourning process, it’s never too early to call for community and love. The antidote to hate, I believe, emerges from love,” Chabad campus rabbi Hershey Novack said.
Sophomore Becca Jacobs felt especially disturbed by the timing of the attack.
“It’s such a tragic incident, and sadly it’s not the first anti-Semitic incident on the Jewish people, but I think that it’s really tough because so much of the Jewish religion is based on self-reflection and peace and building a world from love,” Jacobs said. “The fact that this happened on Shabbat, which is supposed to be the day of rest, the day that you disconnect from everything and work and spend time with family—it’s all about focusing on the Torah and reflecting and this totally disrupted that.”
Jacobs believes that the discussion to be had won’t be one of blame but of peace and action—perhaps even a catalyst for uniting the whole Jewish community.
“I think that there will be a global rise, or hopefully that people will feel a global sense of camaraderie and connect to make change that way,” Jacobs said. “I think Judaism focuses a lot on self-reflections and really doesn’t emphasize blame at all. So having this gathering…at least from my experience in any Jewish setting, it’s not going to focus on blaming the gunman…but focus on how we can improve it ourselves and how we can move forward together.”
Student Union President Grace Egbo believes that it is important for SU to be doing as much as they can to support the Jewish community on campus at this time. SU shared Hillel’s event on their Facebook page.
“It was more of now, how can we best support the people that are affected by this because it touches a lot of people,” Egbo said. “There’s a very large population of Jewish people on campus, so at this point we are just more utilizing the resources that we have and really reaching out to different organizations and different student groups [asking] how can we be a resource to them, how can we make ourselves available.”
According to Gerson, as the Jewish community moves forward from this, it’s most important for everyone as a whole to come together.
“I think we all really need to stop and recognize that we are all intrinsically connected to one another, and Hillel stands by that,” Gerson said. “We need to stop and recognize that. I think that when the human race is able to do that, I think we’ll be much better for it.”
Jacobs believes that one of the most important things that students can do after a tragedy such as this is to educate themselves and turn their frustrations into actions, such as voting in the upcoming midterm elections Nov. 6.
“I mean the Holocaust was a catalyst, but even so we’ve been moving forward and trying do this for years, and nothing’s going to happen if you just sit there and blame other people,” Jacobs said. “You have to go vote, and yes, we have to be cognizant of gun laws and restrictions and everything. We can make change by voting, but if we just sit there and say, ‘Okay, this is someone else’s fault,’ that’s not really how it works.”