Shouting “all Jews must die,” a deranged 46-year-old male, armed with four guns and with nothing but evil in his chest cavity where a heart should be located, began firing upon the Tree of Life-Or L’simcha Synagogue congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The congregation was observing Shabbat and celebrating the naming of a newborn baby.
The end result of the carnage left 11 dead and six wounded, four of whom are heroic police officers confronting the worst attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. The murdered ranged in ages from 54 to 97, including a pair of brothers, and a married couple who received their nuptials at that very shul.
Coming off a week that appeared to conclude with the capture of the alleged sender of more than a dozen pipe bombs and other suspicious packages to prominent people and elected officials, Shabbat, the day of rest in the Jewish faith, should have provided a much-needed respite. I’m not linking these activities or perpetrators other than by the nature of their incivility and dastardly deeds, I’m saying we are at a tipping point in this country where discourse and the value and sanctity of life are concerned.
Anti-Semitism Has Stained Nearly Every Culture And Time
For millennia, the Jewish people have been the canary in the coal mine. There’s never an off-season for anti-Semitism. From centuries of enslavement in Egypt to the Spanish Inquisition, to pogroms in Russia and Poland, to the Holocaust, which witnessed the slaughter of six million innocents, the Jews–simply by worshiping differently, sometimes dining differently, even dressing differently–have chosen to live as G-d has commanded.
In the United States, where freedom reigns and the Jewish people have assimilated, anti-Semitic acts still account for the greatest number of bias crimes against any minority group. While few consider the Jewish people a minority group, the Jewish population in the United States is a little less than 2 percent of the population as a whole.
In that, it’s a conundrum that a wealth of freedoms––freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to protect oneself with a firearm––are used against us as a free people. One’s freedom of speech ends when it becomes a clear and present danger to others’ safety and lives. One’s right to use a firearm ends when it is used in the commission of a crime. It is incumbent upon the speaker and user to know where that line is and to not cross it.
The Ultimate Punishment
This is why the United States is a nation of laws, including the use of the death penalty, which I support and President Donald Trump has called for in this case, even calling for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to reinstate its execution moratorium. For a wicked act of pure evil, the ultimate punishment should be assessed.
“This is an assault on all of us; an assault on humanity,” said Trump. “This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It will require all of us working together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from our world. This scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored; cannot be tolerated, and it cannot be allowed to continue.”
The perpetrator is being charged with hate crimes versus domestic terrorism, although it won’t matter much to the families of the victims. Clearly, acts of domestic terror were carried out, as the captured suspect carried an AR-15 semi-automatic gun, along with three Glock handguns, into the synagogue. He will face 11 counts of homicide and 11 counts of obstruction of religious worship (state charges), as well as 29 federal charges that will put the death penalty on the table.
Trump also called for increased security, such as armed guards, to ward off potential domestic terrorists. Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, a Democrat, disagreed, suggesting that removing firearms from potential murderers would be the better option. Unless someone telegraphs his future actions, however, mere words of hatred (which are legal) are not enough to deny someone his Second Amendment rights. Armed security guards are already employed at many of the mega-churches for Sundays and holidays, as well as synagogues during the High Holiday period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Let not the actions of an evil individual keep us from our houses of worship. Be resolved to attend them more often and more regularly to pray to the one G-d, who created us to live on this planet in peace and harmony. Maintain the fervent G-d-given wisdom to be ever vigilant of our enemies who have not learned that our churches and synagogues will never turn into killing fields, and remain steadfast in the safety and comfort of the L-rd and His blessings.