Israeli Minister of Jews in the Diaspora and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett addresses a memorial in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28. (Alexi Rosenfeld courtesy Ashernet)
On Sunday, Oct. 28, Israeli Minister of Jews in the Diaspora and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett addressed a memorial vigil at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh, for the 11 members of the Jewish community murdered in the shooting attack at the Tree of Life synagogue the day before.
Bennett was visiting the city as an official emissary of the Government of Israel, to offer strength and support to the Jewish community following the tragedy. The minister met during the day with leaders of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, and wider American Jewry, as well as with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and members of Congress representing the state.
In an emotional meeting, Bennett sat with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, spiritual leader of the Tree of Life congregation. During the attack, Myers had led many of his congregants to safety.
“Our whole nation is feeling the pain you are feeling here after this heinous hate crime,” Bennett told the leaders of the Pittsburgh community. “I want to extend my condolences to the families of the victims. People who have seen so much in their lives could not imagine they would be gunned down in Shabbat prayer.”
The minister visited the site of the attack and met with ZAKA (Israel’s volunteer emergency response force) and other emergency crews, who had helped the local police, who he also thanked for their great bravery.
Addressing the memorial vigil – attended by more than 4,000 people from the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in the city, including the governor and mayor, senators and members of Congress, President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and New York Israel Consul General Danny Dayan – he said, “Today, we stand in the shadow of death, in the shadow of evil, in the shadow of a cowardly terror attack on Jews who were in synagogue to pray – the deadliest antisemitic attack in the history of the United States.”
He added, “But, today, I met the people and the leaders of the community here in Pittsburgh and I didn’t see death. I saw life, strength. I saw a warm community of love and unity. I saw the Tree of Life, which will never be uprooted by hatred.”
He said, “We stand together, as Jews from all communities united, as well as members of all faiths. Together we stand. Americans and Israelis. People who are, together, saying no to hatred. The murderer’s bullet does not stop to ask, Are you Conservative or Reform, are you Orthodox? Are you right-wing or left-wing? It has one goal, and that is to kill innocent people. Innocent Jews.”
Bennett told the thousands at the memorial that he came to offer the support and condolences of all the Israeli people.
“Nearly 80 years since Kristallnacht, when the Jews of Europe perished in the flames of their houses of worship, one thing is clear,” he said. “Antisemitism, Jew-hating, is not a distant memory. Antisemitism is a clear and present danger. From Sderot [in southern Israel] to Pittsburgh, the hands that fire missiles are the same hands that shoot worshippers. We will fight against the hatred of Jews and antisemitism wherever it raises its head, and we will prevail.”
Stressing the shared values that bond the American and Israeli peoples together, Bennett concluded, “Freedom will overcome. Unity will defeat division. Love will defeat hatred. Light will defeat darkness. Am Yisrael Chai.”