Israeli Minister of Diaspora and Education Naftali Bennett spoke to a packed house of thousands in Pittsburgh Sunday night, at the memorial vigil to honor the victims of the shooting attack on Sabbath morning at the Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 Jewish worshippers dead and six other people wounded, including four responding police officers.
The vigil was attended by more than 4,000 attendees from across the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in the city as well as the Governor and Mayor, Senators, members of Congress, President Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, and New York Israel Consul-General Danny Dayan.
“Today, we stand in the shadow of death,” Bennett said, opening with a quote from Psalm 23. “In the shadow of evil. In the shadow of a cowardly, terror attack on Jews who were in synagogue to pray. The deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States.
“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.
“We stand together, as Jews from all communities united, as well as members of all faiths. Together we stand. Americans, 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.
“Nearly eighty years since Kristallnacht, when the Jews of Europe perished in the flames of their houses of worship, one thing is clear. Antisemitism, Jew hating, is not a distant memory. Antisemitism is a clear and present danger. From Sderot to Pittsburgh, the hand that fires missiles is the same hand that shoots worshipers. We will fight against the hatred of Jews, and anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head. And we will prevail.”
Stressing the shared values that bonded 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.”
Visiting Pittsburgh as an official emissary of the Government of Israel, Bennett arrived specifically to offer the strength and support of the Jewish state to the Jewish community following the terrible tragedy. He met during the day with leaders of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, and with wider American Jewry as well as with Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and with Members of Congress representing the state.
In an emotional meeting, Bennett also sat with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, the leader of the Tree of Life congregation, who managed to help usher some of his congregants to safety.
Bennett told leaders of the Pittsburgh community, “Our whole nation is feeling the pain you are feeling here after this heinous hate crime. 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 also visited the site of the attack and met with ZAKA and other emergency crews who had helped the local police, who he also thanked for their great bravery.