Israel shares Pittsburgh’s pain

A projection on the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem. Photo: AP Photo/Dusan Vranic

ISRAEL’S Diaspora Minister flew to Pittsburgh hours after the attack and told locals, “Our whole nation is feeling the pain you are feeling.”

Naftali Bennett also echoed the anger felt in the US. “Nearly 80 years since Kristallnacht, when the Jews of Europe perished in the flames of their houses of worship, one thing is clear,” he declared at a vigil for Pittsburgh residents. “Antisemitism, Jew-hating, is not a distant memory.”

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.” And he vowed: “We will fight against the hatred of Jews, and antisemitism wherever it raises its head.”

Bennett reflected on his visit in an interview with The AJN as he left Pittsburgh.

“The worst part was hearing the entire story from the rabbi,” he said. “It was really devastating.” But he said that the unity that he witnessed was inspiring.

“Being at the vigil with thousands of people all uniting together and the very warm reception of all the Jews showed a strong desire for unity among the Jews there,” said Bennett.

The scene at the end of the vigil was “overwhelming and emotional”, said Miriam Ballin, an Israeli emergency worker who arrived as it was finishing.

She told The AJN, “People were standing around, shell-shocked as if the attack happened five minutes ago, even though it happened a day-and-a-half previously.”

She was dispatched to Pittsburgh, leading a four-person team from the United Hatzalah organisation to help members of the community with the emotional turmoil they are feeling.

Ballin, who moved from Sydney to Israel five years ago, is using Israel’s radical new approach to “psychological first aid”, which pushes people hard to get back to normal. “It’s a lot of empowerment,” she said.

Israelis from across faith and political divides expressed shock at the attack, and this week’s cabinet meeting started with a minute’s silence, as did one of the Knesset’s committees.

It was “a particularly heinous crime” given it was perpetrated in a synagogue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter to the Pittsburgh community.

Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, said that the location, and timing on Shabbat, made it “an attack in the heart of the Jewish people”.

The most prominent Arab Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, joined the condemnations, and said: “The heart goes out to the families of the slaughtered, members of the Jewish community and the victims of Pittsburgh.”

President Reuven Rivlin said that the tragedy was too raw for Israel to be able to offer consolation, but stressed that Pittsburgh has Israel’s solidarity. “One people,” said Rivlin. “One family. Unbreakable. Eternal.”