Pittsburgh Shooting and Local Anti-Semitic Actions Remind UHS and the Nation of Ongoing Anti-Semitism

BY SOPHIA BALKOVSKI AND VINCENT WOO
Staff Writer

Tributes including the names of the 11 victims of a recent shooting and bundles of flowers are laid in front of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Time Magazine)

The shooting and mass murder that recently occurred at a Pittsburgh synagogue reminded both UHS students and America alike of the remnants of anti-semitism still present within the United States.

The shooting delivers a somber reminder to many UHS students that anti-semitism is still prominent throughout the globe, and that anti-semitism-motivated attacks can occur anywhere, no matter how insignificant.

Senior Yarin Heffes, a Jewish UHS student describes being in “shock” when finding out about the attack, especially because it was the “biggest anti-semitic attack in US history”. He and a group of friends “took pictures with signs…and sent them for support”.

“It’s a copycat effect where people feel empowered to raise their anti-semitic sentiments and voice them or take action,” he said.

Additionally, on October 26, one day prior to the shooting in Pittsburgh, it became aware that swastikas, accompanied by other anti-semitic graffiti, had been left by vandals in restrooms on the campus of Irvine Valley College(IVC).

Irvine Chief of Police Mike Hamel released an official statement two days following the incident, stating that “IPD is working closely with the Irvine Valley College Police Department to thoroughly investigate these incidents… [as]  partners in law enforcement, IPD provides additional resources in support of campus police whenever we are called upon, including these recent incidents.”

The incident at IVC is one of many anti-semitic actions in Irvine, including a bomb threat received by the Merage Jewish Community Center and Tarbut V’Torah School in Irvine that forced the evacuation of about a thousand people from the facilities in February 2017.

More recently, the Beth Jacob Shul synagogue in Irvine was vandalized on October 31st with an explicit hate message towards Jews on the synagogue’s wall facing Michelson Drive.

“The Irvine Police Department is aggressively investigating the incident at Beth Jacob Congregation.” IPD Communications Manager Kim Mohr wrote in an email. “We will use every available resource to bring the suspects to justice… we have increased patrols at Jewish houses of worship and other facilities [and] we will continued this heightened patrol response as long as needed.”

The IPD was notified by synagogue administrators and a full investigation is underway. The suspect, who committed the crime shortly after midnight, is still at-large. Irvine mayor Don Wagner promises a $10,000 reward for anyone who provides information on the culprit.

The shooting in Pittsburgh, however, took the lives of some of those attending the synagogue for worship.

On Saturday, October 27, 46-year-old Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue in eastern Pittsburgh and began firing on the synagogue’s 60 to 100 occupants attending Shabbat morning services. After a stand-off between tactical forces and the gunman lasting over half an hour, Bowers was taken into custody while saying anti-semitic phrases.

Eleven total deaths were reported, with six other injuries, including four inflicted on law enforcement officers.

The suspect, Robert Gregory Bowers, a notorious anti-semitist, made multiple anti-semitic posts on social media website Gab, a platform similar to Twitter and the host of many notable alt-right or white-supremacist activists banned from Twitter.

Bowers was charged by the United States Department of Justice with 29 federal crimes and 36 state criminal counts(11 counts of criminal homicide, 6 counts of aggravated assault, 6 counts of attempted criminal homicide and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation). He appeared in federal court on October 29, and is currently being held by the United States Marshals Service prior to further scheduled hearings.

For Heffes, the graffiti at Beth Jacob “hit a lot harder” because of its proximity to his home.  

“My parents moved from Israel because here I’d be able to grow up and have a good childhood and even here it looks like it’s becoming [unsafe] as well.” He asks all people to keep in mind that “you may seem right in your own context. But you just have to be mindful of the fact that people have different opinions- but sometimes they’re all valid.”

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