York Jewish community, officials respond to Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
Law enforcement officers secure the scene where multiple people were shot, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

State and local officials and the York Jewish community are condemning Saturday's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. 

Nada Seidon, chairwoman of the York Jewish Community Relations Council, issued a statement Saturday afternoon after a shooter killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill:

"This morning in a Pittsburgh synagogue several people were killed in another vicious hate crime. 

"The victims were innocent Jews praying during their Sabbath and celebrating the welcoming of a newborn into this world.

"Officers were injured while apprehending the shooter, who reportedly said he wanted to kill Jews during the attack.

"This is another senseless act of violence aimed at people for no reason other than being different.

"The Jewish Community Relations Council of York stands with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh as well as all Jewish communities and all people of good will around the world in condemning the terrible loss of innocent lives."

The York Jewish Community Center also posted a statement on its website saying its members mourned the lives lost.

"Our hearts and prayers are with the victims' families and law enforcement impacted by these losses. The York JCC condemns acts of violence in any form and will stand strongly for an open and inclusive community," the JCC stated. 

In a longer statement Sunday, Dani Fessler, CEO of the JCC, said the history of the Jewish people is "strewn with the blood of innocent men, women, and children," because of anti-Semitic violence and mass murderers.

"As we are writhing in pain, shocked, and our hearts with the families of the dead, we also remember our history as people who have been persecuted for our faith," Fessler said. "Calls of condemnation echo from around the world, but will they be enough to prevent the next racist attack on innocent people?"

Despite centuries of attacks on the Jewish people in an attempt to destroy them, Fessler said, the people stand firm "like a lighthouse for the world."

Fessler said the faith of the people will allow them to continue their mission of Tikkun Olam, a Jewish teaching that translates to repairing the world. 

"I believe with ongoing dialogue, educating the next generation, and in adhering to our values, we will dissolve prejudice that leads to violent action of any kind," he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf was in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon meeting with affected families, first responders and city and county officials, according to a news release. 

“I thank all of the first responders who worked quickly to prevent further carnage, aid victims, and protect the surrounding neighborhood," the governor said in a statement. "I stand in sorrow and solidarity with all those, especially the Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh Jewish communities, who are mourning and helping the community to recover.”

Wolf, a Democrat seeking re-election, said there are no known threats to other institutions in Pennsylvania at this time. 

Police said a suspect, identified as Robert Bowers, was in custody after the attack, The Associated Press reported. 

More:AP sources: At least 10 killed in Pittsburgh synagogue attack

Wolf's Republican challenger, Scott Wagner, tweeted his condolences to the families of the multiple victims. 

"This type of violence is sickening and has no place in our society," Wagner tweeted. "We salute the bravery and swift response of local law enforcement in containing the suspect and we will suspend campaign activity today so we can continue to monitor the situation and provide whatever assistance is necessary."

From left, Kate Rothstein looks on as Tammy Hepps hugs Simone Rothstein, 16, on the intersection of Shady Avenue and Northumberland Street after multiple people were shot at The Tree of Life Congregation synagogue, Oct, 27, 2018, in Squirrel Hill. Simone, of Squirrel Hill, is the daughter of Kate. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

George Scott, a Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District, also tweeted in the wake of the Squirrel Hill shooting. 

"As a man of faith, an attack on a place of worship, during a time of worship, is an attack on all of us. I pray that as a nation these senseless acts of violence stop," Scott tweeted. 

Jess King, a Democratic candidate for the 11th Congressional District, tweeted her prayers for the victims — as well as a call for action. 

"My heart breaks wide open today. We pray for the families & the victims. And we also commit to act," King tweeted. "To reject a politics of hate. To stand up to the corporate gun lobby. To love our Jewish brothers & sisters, and work so all of us can live free from fear and bigotry."

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, King's Republican incumbent challenger, also tweeted condolences on Saturday. 

"The Tree of Life Synagogue, and the entire Pittsburgh community, needs our prayers today. The news reports are absolutely heartbreaking. God bless the first responders and all those impacted by today’s tragic events," Smucker tweeted. 

Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Perry in the 10th District had not tweeted about the incident as of Saturday afternoon. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker's tweet after the shooting. It has also been updated to include Dani Kessler's statement from Sunday.