Violent Attack on Jewish Community in Pennslyvania

On Saturday, October 27, as worshippers gathered to celebrate the naming of a new baby at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, a gunman burst into the temple wielding three handguns and an AR-15 assault rifle shouting ``All Jews Must Die.'' He murdered three women and eight men before he was subdued by the police in what authorities are calling the worst attack on the Jewish community in American history.

The eleven congregants killed and the six others who were wounded in this act of pure evil were targeted because of one reason only: they were Jews. Peaceful law abiding Americans were killed in a holy place on the Jewish Sabbath simply for being Jews. That this would happen in 2018 is appalling and is a tragic reminder that anti-Semitism is unfortunately alive and well.

The Jewish American community dates back to before the founding of our country, as this often persecuted religious community sought shelter in the hope of the American promise. In his 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, George Washington famously wrote, ``The government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitats--while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.''

What happened on Saturday was an assault on the very foundations of America. It was an assault on freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I always say that the First Amendment is first because it is the most important--it is the very basis of what historically has made this country different than all others. It is because of that amendment that Jews and people of all other faiths have made this country their home.

This deranged killer sought not only to kill Jews on the Sabbath, he sought to kill America as we know it. His violent and murderous actions should be treated as a hate crime, and he should be brought to justice swiftly. If he is indeed convicted, this man should be meted out the most severe punishment under the law.

Just days following this heinous attack, the Rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue summed up the significance of what occurred well. ``Many just see this as an attack on the Jewish community. It's not. When American citizens cannot freely and safely worship in their house of worship and celebrate the Sabbath, it concerned me because it challenges the safety and security of all Americans in any house of worship. It was an attack on America.''

And that's just the way it is.


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