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After Synagogue Shooting, Pittsburgh Rabbi Is Still Hopeful


For the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, 2019 is going to be a year of rebuilding. In late October, members of that synagogue gathered for Shabbat service. Their prayers were interrupted by gunfire.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Good morning. We're coming on the air right now with breaking news for those...


MARTIN: Eleven Jewish worshippers have been killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. A man has been charged with hate crimes and could face the death penalty.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh has again revealed the ugly anti-Semitism that still exists in the United States.

MARTIN: In the aftermath, the synagogue's rabbi, Jeffrey Myers, vowed that hate would not close his building's doors. It's now been two months since that tragedy. In a conversation with our co-host Noel King, Rabbi Myers explained what has kept him hopeful.

JEFFREY MYERS: Such a outpouring of love and support from not just around the immediate community or even the United States, but from around the world. I'll give one example. There was a young boy who had his bar mitzvah also on October 27 in another synagogue. And upon his reflection of the horrific events of that day, he felt he needed to do something.

So he took some money that was gifted to him for his bar mitzvah and sent a donation to our synagogue as his way of connecting with us and sharing in his sorrow and at hoping for a brighter future. And I thought, wow. That just took my breath away. And to me, that's so uplifting.

NOEL KING, BYLINE: I wonder, though, over the past couple of months whether or not your perspective has changed at all on anti-Semitism in this country.

MYERS: I don't think my perspective has changed at all. Many felt that this sort of horrific massacre was inevitable at some point in the history of the Jewish community in the United States. It was going to happen. Many were surprised that it didn't happen, I guess, historically sooner than it did, but that it was going to happen at some point.

KING: You know, people will hear you say that there was a sense of inevitability, and they'll say, you know, no one should have to live like that. This is the United States of America. What do you say to people who don't understand what it's like to be in the United States and to know that anti-Semitism does exist?

MYERS: This one has probably the longest-running form of bigotry in existence in humanity because it's been around literally almost as long as the Jewish people have been around. I'd like to think in some, you know, rosy sort of view of the United States that our country was founded because people were escaping bigotry and prejudice in Europe and came to a new place to build a new life. And yet there's some disappointment there in that the hopes that people could escape those forms of bigotry didn't materialize. It still exists. Americans still preach words that wound and hurt fellow citizens.

KING: Rabbi, you've been advocating for political leaders and for people of all parties and all faiths to eliminate the word hate from their vocabulary. Why?

MYERS: When we use words of hate, to use that word only once, we're creating a more dangerous world because those words lead to actions such as the massacre that occurred in Tree of Life on October 27. So if one could just be careful and think about what they say and how they use their words, people may come to realize, wow, my words really have an impact. I can be really more careful about those choices.

KING: Having had time to reflect, I wonder do you have a message for the man who committed these murders?

MYERS: I think that's the first time I've been asked that question. To me, it's such an unconscionable act that it defies answers. I don't think that anything I could ask, I would find a suitable answer that would soothe my soul, ease my pain or burden. So I don't have anything that I would ask at this time. I don't know if I ever would.

KING: Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, thank you so much for being with us.

MYERS: A pleasure to have a conversation with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.