Anti-Semitism reared its ugly head when a terrible man opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, on October 27. This senseless and horrific act took the lives of eleven people and wounded six others. After the shooting, Jews around the world showed their support by holding vigils and visiting the synagogue. Many community members, organizations, and students from Magen David Yeshivah went to Pennsylvania to comfort the families of those who were murdered, and to voice in person their support and love.
Magen David Yeshivah Brings Love & Support to Pittsburgh
On Thursday, November 8, a group of (about 45) Magen David Yeshivah elementary and high school students, alumni, and faculty traveled for six hours to visit and show support for, and solidarity with, the people of Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania.
When they arrived, the MDY family visited the Yeshiva Girls & Boys School, The Community Day School, The Pittsburgh Police Department Zone 4 Unit (which had four officers injured in the atrocity) and The Tree of Life Synagogue where they created their own memorial using 11 New York State Flags, each with the name of one of the victims.
At the schools, the MDY students tried to uplift the spirits of the Pittsburgh students, and left feeling inspired by the community’s strength and warm hospitality. At the Police Station, MDY Chief of Security Al Nunez, a former NYPD officer, praised the heroism of all the police officers and offered his good wishes to those who were injured.
MDY Alumni Jack Mavorah presented the Commander of Pittsburgh Police Zone 4 with a menorah, and said, “Today, we celebrate the start of the Jewish month of Kislev. During this month we celebrate Hanukkah—The Festival of Lights. With this menorah, we offer our heartfelt prayers that this month and the many months and years ahead bring only light and joy to you, your families, and to the entire community of Squirrel Hill.”
The day concluded with Minha and an emotional memorial service for the victims, where students spoke about the victims, and Rabbi Noah Leavitt, from Cleveland, joined the MDY group to show his solidarity and support for the community and to deliver moving divrei Torah. The service concluded with heartfelt renditions of Hatikvah and the US National Anthem
One Young Community Member’s Experience
On Thursday, November 1, Jack Dweck, a student at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, joined community members from various organizations as they traveled to Pittsburgh. He said they were doing their duty as American citizens and as Jews, and added, “What started out as a journey to try to console others, evolved into an experience which provoked introspection into every aspect of my life.”
The day they arrived, Jack and the others met police officers and the following day, they were introduced to the four officers who were injured in the attack.
“Next, we visited the family.” of Joyce Fienberg. Right before we left, we prayed Minha at their home. Being able to hear firsthand, the Kaddish of a mourner, who suffered the loss of a loved one due to the massacre, was overwhelming.”
Their next stop was The Tree of Life Synagogue. “It looked like any other shul in the country,” stated Jack. “People were praying, and community members were interacting. However, this wasn’t just any shul, this congregation fell victim to the wrath of an anti-Semitic monster—it could have happened to any of us.”
He continued, “The last home we visited had a sign which read,‘Please no visitors.’ As we turned to leave, a friend of victim Richard Gottfried’s wife asked why we were there. We told her that we were fellow Jews from the Sephardic community in Brooklyn, who felt the need to pay our respects in person. Upon hearing that we came from Brooklyn, she immediately ushered us into the home. The wife, siblings, and children of Mr. Gottfried were so overwhelmed and appreciative that we had come to visit them, they embraced us and cried in our arms.
“The stories I heard about the people who perished were beautiful. They were special people. I am thankful for being chosen to represent my school. It changed my life.”
Jack’s parents and YoF should be very proud. The empathy this young man showed, and the deep introspection about his life are remarkable for an adult, let alone a teen. t
Ezra Saff’s Experiences In Pittsburgh
Ezra Saff and other community members met Rabbi Azancot in Pittsburgh. The Rabbi had gone earlier to set up meetings with the community.
Their first stop was police headquarters. Before they went in Rabbi Azancot reminded them that they were not there for publicity or fame, they were there to show gratitude to the police department, to comfort the mourners, and to show Pittsburgh that they stand by them.
Upon meeting the officers who had been taken down the shooter, Ezra said, “These men are truly amazing, and dedicated to what they do,”
Rabbi Azancot gave a few words of thanks for their heroic acts. To which they replied if they had to, they would do it all over again. The group then presented the police captain and all of the officers with plaques, showing the appreciation of the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn.
All of the policemen were amazing, but one stood out to Ezra. He was only 19 years old, he was the first on the scene, and the first person who went inside the Synagogue. When asked what he was thinking at the time, he responded, “I just didn’t want to get shot, and then the adrenaline took over.”
During the meeting, the group learned that when rookies are trained, they’re taught about the Holocaust and told that the police in Germany did nothing to help. Then they’re told, “that’s not the way this department does things.”
After meeting with the police, they went to pay shiva calls. Then went to a funeral for one of the victims, but there were over 1,000 people there, and they didn’t get in.
Their next stop was The Tree of Life Synagogue. “It’s hard to put into words what it felt like being there,” said Ezra.
They also went to a Chabad where they prayed Arbit with the daughter of another person who was murdered
“During the day, you could feel the sorrow of the people of Pittsburgh. While we stood on a street corner, people in cars would roll down heir windows, and express their condolences to us. These were people were from all different religions, and races,” stated Ezra.
Ezra also wanted to point out, “When we were planning the trip, people told us not to go, to leave the people alone to mourn, and not to disrupt them. But, we went with our guts, and went anyway.” He’s happy they did, because there was not one person, from the police to the families of the deceased, that wasn’t glad to see them, to hear their condolences and to witness that the entire Jewish world is sharing their pain and suffering.
“I would like to express our gratitude to Rabbi Azancot, for putting this special day together. Also, a special thanks to Adam Cohen who helped secure a meeting with the police department, as well as Alan Dweck who took care of our travel arrangements.”