As hate crimes increase in the U.S., victims and affiliates of the Pittsburgh shooting remind the public of the importance of love and remembrance.
On Oct. 27, 2018, eleven Jewish worshippers were murdered by Robert D. Bowers in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh at 9:50 a.m.. By the time police were notified at 9:54 a.m., Bowers had already killed the 11 victims and injured seven others. According to the New York Times, Bowers was charged with 29 criminal counts, 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault, and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.
The Tree of Life shooting was one of at least three shootings that occurred within religious spaces during the past three years. On Nov. 5, 2017, Devin Kelley killed 26 members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans during a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Confusion, anger, and grief cannot begin to describe the emotions felt by those who experience hate crimes, whether they are victims or members of the surrounding community. While no conclusion has been reached that explains the increase in recent hate crimes, including violence against those of a particular religion, race, or gender identity, affiliates with the Tree of Life shooting have urged the public to recall the importance of love and to honor the identities of the victims.
Ari Mahler, a nurse and the son of a rabbi, revealed via a public Facebook post on Nov. 3 that he treated shooter Robert Bowers at Allegheny General Hospital, thus saving Bowers’ life. Mahler asked for his audience to embrace love as a means of taking steps towards healing and reconciliation.
“So now, here I am, The Jewish Nurse that cared for Robert Bowers. I’ve watched them talk about me on CNN, Fox News, Anderson Cooper, PBS, and the local news stations” said Mahler. “The fact that I did my job, a job which requires compassion and empathy over everything, is newsworthy to people because I’m Jewish… I wanted [Bowers] to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Love… That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope… The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings.”
Indeed, an act of love is living in remembrance of those who died in Pittsburgh. Below are statements made by the friends and family of several of the Pittsburgh victims, according to CNN.
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, was a primary care physician known for his treatment of HIV. During the shooting, Rabonowitz was not with the congregation in the basement, but he was outside. Rabonowitz’s nephew, Avishai Ostrin, said, “[Rabonowitz was not in the basement] because when he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor. That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did.”
Melvin Wax, 87, was an accountant deeply devoted to his religion, often the first to arrive at services. His family stated, “We recently found out that even though he was 87, he parked several streets away from the synagogue to leave the closer spaces to ‘those who need them more.’”
Irvin Younger, 69, a former real estate agent, ensured that all members of the Tree of Life congregation felt welcomed and at ease during services. Barton Schachter, a friend of Younger’s and former president of Tree of Life, told CNN, “[Younger] liked to make sure you knew where you were in the prayer book. It was his duty. He felt responsible. He felt like his role was to help serve.”