The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a mass shooting that took place on October 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation[a] in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The congregation, along with New Light Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash, which also worshipped in the building, was attacked during Shabbat morning services. The shooter killed eleven people and wounded six. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.

Part of Mass shootings in the United States, Antisemitism in the United States and Terrorism in the United States

People visit the memorials to victims of the mass shooting outside the Tree of Life synagogue on November 4, 2018

Robert Gregory Bowers, 46 years old, was arrested at the scene and charged as the suspect with 63 federal crimes, some of which are capital crimes. He has pleaded not guilty. He separately faces 36 charges in Pennsylvania state court.

Bowers had earlier posted anti-Semitic comments against HIAS (formerly, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) on the online social network Gab. Dor Hadash had participated in HIAS’s National Refugee Shabbat the previous week. Referring to Central American migrant caravans and immigrants, Bowers posted on Gab that “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Some sources say that this incident should be classified as an act of domestic terrorism.

Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation is a Conservative Jewish synagogue. The synagogue describes itself as a “traditional, progressive, and egalitarian congregation”.[18]It is located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Carnegie Mellon University and about 5 miles (8.0 km) east of downtown Pittsburgh.

The Squirrel Hill neighborhood is one of the largest predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in the United States and has historically been the center of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. About 26 percent of the city’s Jewish population live in the area.

Originally founded as an Orthodox Jewishcongregation in 1864 in downtown Pittsburgh, by an early group of Jewish immigrants, Tree of Life merged in 2010 with the recently founded Congregation Or L’Simcha.

The modern synagogue building, located at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady avenues in Squirrel Hill, was built in 1953. The congregation also rents space to Dor Hadash,  a Reconstructionistcongregation; and New Light, another Conservative congregation. The synagogue’s main sanctuary has a capacity of 1,250 people.

Squirrel Hill has a low crime rate and is not generally regarded as racially tense. But local rabbinic student Neal Rosenblum was murdered in the neighborhood in 1986 in an antisemitic hate crime.

This 2018 mass shooting took place soon after Columbia University and the Anti-Defamation League independently reported a spike in anti-Semitic activity online, especially on the popular social networking platforms Instagramand Twitter.  In addition, other anti-semitic acts had been committed elsewhere.

The immediate rise in the months of August to October 2018 was attributed to rising tensions associated with advertising for the 2018 US midterm elections. A similar rise in online attacks had occurred during the 2016 US election,  with the midterms being a “rallying point” for far-right extremists to organize efforts to spread antisemitism online among the populace.  

In 2017 there was a 57% rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States, in context of rising hate crimes against other groups, including Muslims and African Americans, as reported by the FBI. For instance, hundreds of Jewish gravestones were vandalized in Pennsylvania and Missouri,[30] and antisemitic incidents on university campuses doubled in number.

 In August 2017, the widely publicized Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia featured Nazi symbols, salutes, and the slogan “Blood and Soil”,[33] amid explicit racist and antisemitic rhetoric. Considerable antisemitic material was being spread online via posted conspiracy theories about wealthy Jewish individuals, including billionaire George Soros. Columbia University’s Jon Albright said that these represented the “worst sample” of all the hate speech he had seen on Instagram.

Eleven people were killed, including three on the ground level and four in the synagogue’s basement. Among the dead were two brothers (the Rosenthals) and a married couple (the Simons). At least six others were injured, including four Pittsburgh Police officers. Five people were transported to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, four requiring surgery, while one was treated and released by the afternoon. Another victim was transported to UPMC Mercy, while the accused was taken to Allegheny General Hospital. Those killed were:

Joyce Fienberg, 75

Richard Gottfried, 65

Rose Mallinger, 97

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66

Cecil, 59 & David Rosenthal, 54

Bernice, 84 & Sylvan Simon, 86

Daniel Stein, 71

Melvin Wax, 88

Irving Younger, 69

Of the four injured officers, three were shot (two police officers and one SWAT member) and the second SWAT member was injured by glass fragments. Wiki