NOTE: There will be a Community Service and Solidarity Gathering for Tree of Life Synagogue hosted by the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington on Monday, Oct. 29, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Adas Israel, 2850 Quebec St. NW, in Cleveland Park.
As this is being written, it is another NFL Sunday afternoon in America with its big-name athletes.
Nevertheless, the most important names to recall in perpetuity are those who fell during yesterday’s tragic, horrific events in Pittsburgh. They are, as released by the Allegheny County Chief Medical Examiner:
Joyce Feinberg, 75, of Oakland, City of Pittsburgh;
Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township;
Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh;
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough;
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill;
David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill;
Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg;
Sylvan Simon, 86, Wilkinsburg;
Daniel Stein, 71 of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh;
Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh;
Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington, City of Pittsburgh.
Also: Robert Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh, who is being charged with 29 separate federal crimes for his attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27. Six other persons were also shot, including four policemen.
All the rest will change as the information expands outward and inward: motive, the life of the charged killer, where it all historically fits in this dark season of the final days leading up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections and how these events, and others, will affect the outcome.
Right now at least, knowing and remembering the names of those who died, who were murdered, killed, bloodied, their flesh torn on a morning of worship, is the most important thing.
Right now at least, we have to try to imagine the losses, the sights and sounds, the terror and all that went with that, lives flying every which way in a place of worship.
According to statistics, the shooting was the worst such single atrocity in American history. The alleged killer is said to be known for anti-Semitic posts on the internet, the last of which was: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”
And he did, entering the synagogue firing a semiautomatic assault-style rifle, killing 11 and wounding six. Confronted by police in an exchange of fire and taken into custody, he was to be arraigned before a federal judge on hate crime charges Monday.
The attack, which shook and shocked the nation, took place in a national political atmosphere already rife and ripe with hostility, violent riffs, debates, rallies and incidents. It came at a time when federal and law enforcement officials were still poring over numerous pieces of mail containing pipe bombs sent to critics and political opponents of the president. The suspect was one Cesar Sayoc, a bouncer, a former DJ and dancer, a self-proclaimed admirer of President Donald Trump.
The shooting in Pittsburgh both overwhelmed and connected to other events, including the bomb mailings, the murder of a Washington Post journalist, allegedly at the hands of Saudi Arabian officials, and a general heightening of heated, sometimes violent, rhetoric in the American body politic and battles of politics, where control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is at stake.
It should be noted that Trump is often at the center of the debate, for his conduct and for his heated, and often false and irresponsible, rhetoric at a series of almost daily political rallies in front of his base in battleground states, which he rode to victory in 2016.
Almost every political commentator, internet busybody, newspaper editorialist and talk-show host has noted the the rising tide of the fissures — vocal, self-evident and fueled by hate divisions — in this race, which is marching almost inevitably toward a climax with only a little over a week remaining. Many expressed the thought that something bad might happen.
Something bad did happen in Pittsburgh yesterday.
Jerome Barry — who is Jewish and the founder and artistic director of Washington’s Embassy Series, which presents concerts at embassies and ambassadorial residences with the stated mission of musical diplomacy — had a special connection to the events at the Tree of Life synagogue. (Still, others we know here in Washington call recall their younger days at that very house of worship.)
“When I heard about the murders of Jews praying on the sabbath in the Tree of Life synagogue, my life flashed before my eyes and heart. Years ago, when I was much younger, I was offered a position as cantor at Tree of Life synagogue, one of the most prestigious synagogues in America. I was engaged as a cantor in Silver Spring. I declined to accept their generous offer and opted to stay in Washington.” Barry cited a famous poem by the German pastor Martin Niemoeller, which ends with: “and then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”
For the Jewish community, with its experience and history of persecution and atrocity, including the Holocaust, the killings were still shocking in their sudden savagery, but not entirely unexpected. Incidents of anti-Semitism, expressed in clashes and public property defacements, were on the rise in the United States.
After the culmination of the Holocaust, there was a common resolve in Jewish communities, which forcefully stated: “Never again.”
But in this political climate in the United States and around the world, it’s also prudent to say: “Never say never.”
And never forget the names: Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland, City of Pittsburgh; Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township; Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough; Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill; David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill; Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg; Sylvan Simon, 86, Wilkinsburg; Daniel Stein, 71 of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh; Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh; Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington, City of Pittsburgh.
RELATED NEWS, Oct. 29: The District government announced nearly a million dollars worth of grants issued to nine nonprofits to integrate security activities with broader preparedness efforts, as follows:
- Adas Israel Congregation – $150,000
- Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC Inc. – $150,000
- Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital, North Campus – $150,000
- The National Presbyterian Church Inc. – $150,000
- The Georgetown Synagogue – Kesher Israel Congregation – $140,000
- Sixth & I Synagogue Inc. – $81,500
- New Bethel Baptist Church – $75,000
- Washington National Cathedral – $50,000
- Jewish Policy Center – $30,000
The grants are management through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program. In addition, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Agency Director Christopher Rodriguez said that a workshop series was planned: “Through workshops across the District, we will empower and educate nonprofits about the importance of conducting physical threat assessments, encouraging personal preparedness to their communities and developing robust applications to secure future funding.”