The horrific shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27 shocked and angered the Bay Area Jewish community, who held vigils in San Francisco and Oakland to honor the 11 murdered victims of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in United States history.
Later the same day, police apprehended 46-year-old suspect Robert Bowers after he shot at the officers from an upper floor of the Tree Of Life Synagogue. His arrest did little to ease the minds of the Jewish community at SF State, however.
On Monday, Oct. 29, the SF Hillel executive director Oliver Benn told the XPress that the atrocity was a crime against the entire Jewish community.
“It’s really hard, this was an attack on all Jews,” Benn said. “As a community, I am feeling and we are feeling a lot of pain.”
Since just a few days have passed since the heinous crime occurred, many members of the community are still processing from the shock, Benn said.
“There are students that are really hurt, that are really confused, scared, upset … looking for a hug, looking for support,” he said.
SF State student and SF Hillel member Jacob Scheinberg said he’s afraid of what could happen to him and his loved ones.
“The coping process has not been easy so far,” Scheinberg said. “My Jewish identity has never felt more violated than it is right now, and I fear for what may come next.”
SF State’s Hillel organization reached out to make sure their community knows they have a safe haven in which to grieve.
“I am very lucky to belong to a tight-knit Jewish community here on campus, and our solidarity will give us strength throughout this process,” Scheinberg said.
In a news conference on Saturday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said that these attacks cannot be accepted as a normal part of America. But the country is seeing an increasing amount of such hatred, Benn said.
Hate crimes motivated by religion overwhelming target Jews, followed closely by Muslims, with 54.2 percent anti-Jewish incidents and 24.8 percent anti-Muslim, according to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report.
“There’s an increasing climate of intolerance and hatred. I don’t think anyone can dispute that,” Benn said. “There’s a lot of processing that needs to go on about the world that we are living in and the direction its moving.”
Benn said local law enforcement called SF Hillel about a heightened level of threat to safety in the wake of the attack.
“We were reached out to by San Francisco Police Department over the weekend,” Benn said. “We’ve always made security a top priority, but we’re going to be working with SFPD to further review the safety of our students.”
The University Police Department has also reached out to SF Hillel “in case we can be of assistance,” wrote Police Chief Jason Wu in an emailed response to the Xpress.
By way of advice, Wu encouraged the concerned SF State “develop a personal safety plan.”
“This will help to improve/enhance their situational awareness in preparation for critical situations where responsiveness is key,” he wrote.
According to an annual report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued earlier this year, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States have soared 57 percent in 2017, the largest rise in a single year since the ADL began tracking such crimes in 1979.
“This is by far the worst attack, but many in the Jewish communities weren’t surprised,” said San Francisco American Jewish Committee Director Matt Kahn. “Anti-Semitism has never ceased to exist, but there has been a rise in outward showings of it. This could be any synagogue in the United States. It hit home.”
San Francisco’s regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, Seth Brysk, said the shooting shows why hate crime statutes remain relevant for Jews, Muslims and other minorities victimized by racists.
“It is a shocking and horrifying reminder of the existence of anti-Semitism,” Brysk said.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 1,267 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, and 2017 recorded 1,986 from harassment, vandalism and assault.
Brysk said recent statements from President Donald Trump and others have “emboldened white supremacists that their views are accepted.”
Among Trump’s more controversial comments was his statement that there were “fine people” among the Nazis rallying in Charlottesville in 2017, even after an anti-racism activist was run down and killed during a protest.
“We need to take those utterances seriously and confront them. It’s not acceptable,” Brysk said.
Brysk also rejects Trump’s suggestion that synagogues should not become “armed camps,” but added that security concerns must be a priority for all religious institutions.
Members of the Bay Area’s Jewish community held vigils in Oakland and San Francisco in solidarity with similar events organized nationwide by Bend the Arc Jewish Action.
“It is very heartening to see how the community comes together in the wake of such a tragic situation,” said Jewish Family and Children’s Services Associate Executive Director Nancy Masters.
Interfaith supporters raised more than $150,000 online for the Pittsburgh shooting victims through the fundraising campaign “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue” on the website LaunchGood.
— with files from Julie Parker