‘Progressive-Leaning’ Jewish Congregation Responds to Attack

“An armed guard would have been able to do nothing…”

Eight Dead at Pittsburgh Synagogue, Shooter Allegedly Yelled 'All Jews Must Die'

Robert Bowers, 46, allegedly entered The Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, killed eleven people, and injured more. (CNN/Youtube)

(Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times) A year and a half ago, before becoming the target of the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, the Dor Hadash congregation in Pittsburgh’s historic Squirrel Hill neighborhood came together and made a well-meaning decision.

The lay-led Reconstructionist Judaism congregation of about 150 families, whose progressive-leaning members take turns leading services at the Tree of Life Synagogue, determined that one of its priorities would be to support immigration and refugee issues.

So the congregation partnered with HIAS, a nonprofit that helps resettle refugees from around the world.

Dor Hadash “stands for diversity, inclusion … for LGBT rights, we have leaders from the LGBT community, we have mixed marriages, we have people of color in the congregation … you get the picture,” Carolyn Ban, a retired professor who chairs the congregation’s social-justice committee, said Sunday. “This is a very socially engaged congregation.”

Ban, who led the congregation’s Shabbat for refugees in partnership with HIAS this month, was at her Squirrel Hill home Saturday morning, shortly before Dor Hadash’s services were set to begin, when she got an email from a Muslim friend in one of her interfaith discussion groups.

“What’s happening at Dor Hadash?” her friend wrote. “There is an active shooter alert in the neighborhood.”

A gunman armed with an AR-15 and three handguns, who had shared neo-Nazi posts on social media, had burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue, which is shared by two conservative Jewish congregations, and opened fired as the groups’ services were beginning, killing 11 people.

It does not seem to have been a random attack. On Oct. 10, the shooting suspect, Robert Bowers, of Pittsburgh, had posted a list of HIAS’ partners on social media, which included Dor Hadash. Then, in the moments before the shooting, Bowers posted again, writing that “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people” — suggesting that the Dor Hadash congregation may have been his specific alleged target because of its refugee advocacy work.

One of the Dor Hadash members, Jerry Rabinowitz, who was helping set up for the morning’s services, was killed, and another member, Dan Leger, was wounded, Ban said.

Both men had dedicated their lives to helping others. Rabinowitz was a primary-care physician and Leger is a hospital chaplain, Ban said. Leger had been in charge of the congregation’s “love and kindness” committee and was often responsible for weddings, funerals and helping hospitalized members.

“Now we’ll be helping him,” Ban said.

Ban said President Donald Trump’s suggestion that an armed guard could have prevented the massacre was wrong. She pointed out that the gunman came in with an AR-15. He wounded four police officers before he was captured.

“An armed guard would have been able to do nothing,” Ban said. “The other thing is, this does not change my strong opposition to the death penalty, which would accomplish nothing and be counter to our values.”

The other priority that Dor Hadash had singled out for its advocacy a year and a half ago was criminal justice reform.

But it’s too early to say what the congregation’s official collective, long-term response to the shooting will be, Ban said.

©2018 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.