The deadly mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning is the worst attack on worshiping Jewish people in American history, according to a Cincinnati professor and director of the American Jewish Archives.
“This is the first time in all American history that Jewish people apparently have been murdered while worshiping,” Gary Zola, who also teaches the American Jewish experience at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, told USA Today.
The gunman, identified as Pittsburgh resident Robert Bowers, 46, allegedly burst into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh around 10 a.m. and screamed anti-Semitic epithets, including, “All Jews must die!”, as he opened fire on the congregants, according to the law enforcement official.
Police confirmed that Bowers, who has been taken into custody with several injuries, killed at least 11 people and injuring six others using an AR-15 and three handguns. Four of the six injured are police officers.
“It’s a very horrific crime scene,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said at a news conference. “It’s one of the worst I’ve seen.”
The special agent in charge of Pittsburgh office of the FBI said, “This is the most horrific crime scene that I’ve seen in 22 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
“This is the most horrific crime scene that I’ve seen in 22 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” special agent in charge of Pittsburgh office of the FBI says. pic.twitter.com/NB40mjh8jN
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 27, 2018
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an international organization fighting anti-Semitism, said it was “unconscionable” that Jews would be targeted on Shabbat morning while praying in a synagogue. “We are devastated,” he said. “Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Jewish community. We are actively engaged with law enforcement to understand the extent of this anti-Semitic attack and we will work together with communities across the country to push back on prejudice wherever it appears.”
The ADL noted that the attack is “likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”
We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. Our full statement: https://t.co/NdyGjtGaM7
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) October 27, 2018
Before Saturday’s shooting, Zola notes that the worst attack “on worshiping Jews came in March 1960, when an explosive device that didn’t detonate was thrown into a Gadsden, Alabama, synagogue. As congregants fled, Zola said, the armed perpetrator waited outside and shot two. No one was killed.”
Posts believed to be from Bowers’ social media account shows derogatory remarks made about refugees and Jewish people.
Posts from the suspected Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers. He hated Trump and thought Trump was controlled by Jews. This monster is an unhinged anti-Semitic terrorist. pic.twitter.com/sjb2k6ucwb
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 27, 2018
“On this holy day of Shabbat – a day for rest and peace – our hearts are broken,” The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati said in a statement shortly after the attack. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims in Pittsburgh and with the entire Jewish community there as they cope with this unthinkable horror.”
Zola notes that he’s seen a resurgence and outward expression of anti-Semitic hate in recent years.
“This idea that, ‘It’s OK to say and do things because we’ve been stifled, we haters, all these years by people who tell us we’re politically not correct and to hell with that, we’ll say and do what we want,'” Zola said.
“There’s always been hatred. What is definitely without question manifesting itself is a willingness to act out.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum noted that the killer yelled an anti-semitic slur before opening fire.
“The Museum reminds all Americans of the dangers of unchecked hatred and anti-Semitism, which must be confronted wherever they appear and calls on all Americans to actively work to promote social solidarity and respect the dignity of all individuals,” it said in its response.