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Loved ones and leaders find gratitude and hope as sentencing nears in synagogue shooting trial

  • Julia Zenkevich/WESA
  • Oliver Morrison/WESA
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers speaks after the verdict in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial. Myers survived the 2018 attack, and he thanked the jury for its work and the broader community for its ongoing support.

 Oliver Morrison / 90.5 WESA

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers speaks after the verdict in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial. Myers survived the 2018 attack, and he thanked the jury for its work and the broader community for its ongoing support.

After a jury determined that convicted synagogue shooter Robert Bowers should be sentenced to death, families and loved ones of those who died by Bowers’ hand, survivors of the attack and leaders of civic and Jewish organizations spoke of gratitude and hope that long-delayed healing could finally begin — for themselves and for their communities.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Congregation, who survived the attack, thanked the jury for its work and the broader Pittsburgh community for its ongoing support since the shooting in 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue, where members of three congregations were worshiping.

The penalty announced Wednesday in U.S. District Court and the hearing now scheduled for Thursday to formally sentence Bowers represent “the closing chapter of an emotional, months-long trial,” preceded by years of being “stuck in neutral” while waiting for it to begin, Myers said.

“It was a challenge to move forward with the looming specter of a murder trial. Now that the trial is nearly over and the jury has recommended a death sentence, it is my hope that we can begin to heal and move forward,” he said.

“As we do, I have my faith, bolstered by the embrace and respect with which my community has been treated by our government and our fellow citizens. For this and the seriousness with which the jury took its duty, I remain forever grateful.”

Echoing those themes was Carole Zawatsky, CEO of Tree of Life, the new national institution dedicated to uprooting antisemitism that grew out of the aftermath of the attack. She also offered words of remembrance and support for survivors and the families of the victims.

“Let us, this day, reaffirm our resolve to bring light into our world and keep the memory of each of the victims in our hearts. They were each individuals whose lives encompassed more than the horrors of a single day,” she said. “May we remember them for their lifetimes of kindness and love.”

The jury’s decision will not restore the lives of those who died, Zawatsky said, but she, too, spoke of it as the catalyst for “a new chapter in the healing process and the future of this community.”

“May we find glimmers of hope amidst the darkness,” she said. “And may the memories of [victims] Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Daniel Stein, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, and Rose Mallinger all be for a blessing.”

Rabbi Doris Dyen addresses reporters after the verdict in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial in which Robert Bowers was sentenced to death.

Oliver Morrison / 90.5 WESA

Rabbi Doris Dyen addresses reporters after the verdict in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial in which Robert Bowers was sentenced to death.

Similar insights came from throughout Pittsburgh and far beyond:

  • “As this chapter comes to a close, we reflect on the strength and resilience of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and the entire community. Although healing is not a linear process, together we have supported people in need of mental health services and ensured that we stay safe from harm. In the wake of the horrors of the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history, our community neither retreated from participating in Jewish life nor suppressed our Jewishness. Instead, our community embraced our Jewish values — strengthening Jewish life, supporting those in need, and building a safer, more inclusive world. We will continue to help people through the long healing process and to honor those who were taken from us by remaining a proud, vibrant, visible, strong, and connected Jewish community, now and for generations to come.”  Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
  • “The justice process is arduous, and we respect the jury for their lengthy service of civic responsibility and holding the convicted perpetrator accountable for his deliberate and heinous actions to the fullest extent of the law. We recognize that while the impact of this antisemitic, identity-based hate crime has far-reaching implications on a national stage, it will remain a deeply personal experience for our community and for the JCC. May the memories of the 11 individuals taken from us on Oct. 27, 2018, forever be a blessing for those who knew and loved them and whose stories have changed our lives.”  Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh 
  • “The horrific attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, stole the lives of 11 innocent victims, shattered their families, gutted their congregation and the Pittsburgh community, and struck fear in the lives of Jewish people across the country. Hate crimes like this one inflict irreparable pain on individual victims and their loved ones and lead entire communities to question their very belonging. All Americans deserve to live free from the fear of hate-fueled violence, and the Justice Department will hold accountable those who perpetrate such acts.” — U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland
  • “I hope that today’s sentencing decision in the synagogue shooting case marks a step forward toward healing for our community. I hope that we can use this decision to start a new chapter that uplifts and protects our city’s Jewish community.”  Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey
  • “The shooting at the Tree of Life remains the worst antisemitic attack in United States history. Today’s verdict doesn’t right that wrong. For some, it may not even bring closure or comfort. It certainly doesn’t erase the horror and grief felt by the families of those who died, by the survivors, or our Jewish community. Even today, almost five years later, I’m still overcome with emotions thinking about that day. But I also remember standing in the rain at Forbes and Murray, in the heart of our Squirrel Hill neighborhood, with thousands of our neighbors. They came together to show support, express their love, and mourn as a community. Like we did in 2018, our community will continue to come together in a place where different faiths and backgrounds all share common hopes and dreams . . .Our community must stand united against hate, against antisemitism, and in support of our Jewish family, friends, and neighbors.”  Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
  • “Oct. 27, 2018 and its aftereffects, painstakingly highlighted throughout this trial, have demonstrated the clear and ongoing threat that antisemitism brings to our society. False and derogatory beliefs about Jewish people, often blended into other toxic conspiracies, can have deadly consequences — the consequences all those impacted by these killings will continue to feel for the remainder of their lives. We will never be able to reclaim the lives taken that day, but we will honor their memories, continue the long, uneven process of healing, and resolve to fight hate in all its forms, wherever it lingers.”   Pittsburgh City Councilor Erika Strassburger
  • “Legally, today closes the book on this painful, horrendous chapter in our community’s history. I sincerely hope that the families and loved ones of those murdered can begin to find some peace and healing. As we move forward, we must support each other and work together to make sure a tragedy like this never occurs again.”  State Sen. Jay Costa
  • “Today, I am remembering the victims who lost their lives in the Tree of Life massacre — 11 lives lost because of antisemitism and hate. I hope that today’s sentencing decision is a step toward justice and healing for the families of the victims, the survivors of the attack, and the broader Jewish community in Pittsburgh and across the country. This was a heinous crime, and I believe that the jury’s decision today is appropriate and just.” — U.S. Sen. John Fetterman 
  • “[Robert] Bowers was a domestic terrorist who perpetrated the largest slaughter of Jewish worshippers in American history. This terrorist was validated and emboldened by others on social media. His just and legal conviction, sentencing, and execution, will send a clear message to tomorrow’s potential killers of innocents in their houses of worship in our country that such extremists will be held fully accountable under the laws of our democracy for any such heinous acts.” — Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization 
  • “The Tree of Life attack is reflective of a broader cycle of far-right extremism —  rooted in white supremacist conspiracy theories and lies — in which each attack inspires the next. It illustrates the deep interconnection of antisemitism and other forms of hate and extremism, making clear that all of our safety and fates are intertwined. Breaking this cycle requires not just accountability and truth-telling —  but also cross-community solidarity in advocating for preventative measures that build resilience and advance the inclusive, multiracial democracy we need.”  Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  • “This crime is one of the most horrific that the city of Pittsburgh has ever experienced. Our hearts are with everyone touched by this terrible act. That the violent attack occurred in a synagogue in a time of rising antisemitism adds to the profound injury and pain experienced in the community. We realize that people of goodwill can have a variety of feelings about capital punishment in this context, especially those who have been personally harmed and traumatized by these events. Nevertheless, we cannot support the death penalty for this or any other case.” — Claire Landau, acting executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania
  • “My heart, and the prayers of all the people of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, are with those who lost loved ones and experienced trauma due to the massacre of Jewish people by Robert Bowers in the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. Three of my own acquaintances perished in that attack. My hope is that today’s verdict will bring closure to so much pain on the victim’s families, to all our Jewish sisters and brothers and on all in the southwestern Pennsylvania community and beyond. My prayers for the families and loved ones of all who died in the Tree of Life Synagogue continue. May we honor the memory of those who have died through our good works done in their name.” — Bishop David Zubik, Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh


  • “As we collectively process the jury’s decision today, what should always be top of mind is the memory of the 11 people murdered in a synagogue while at prayer by a cold-blooded hater of Jews. Ultimately what is of most significance is not how the shooter will spend the end of his life, but the fact that the U.S. government pursued this case with vigor and demonstrated that such crimes will not be countenanced, excused, or minimized.” — The American Jewish Committee, the global advocacy organization for the Jewish people
  • “Today’s decision represents a measure of justice for the slaughter of 11 Jewish worshippers on that fateful day in 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue. Nothing can ever bring back the people killed in the attack, the deadliest act of antisemitism in the history of the United States. I visited the synagogue in the aftermath of the attack, and at that time, I said the attack was not only on the Jewish community, but America as a whole. The jury’s decision is a stark reminder to remain vigilant about countering antisemitism, wherever it may hide. I call on American leaders to amplify their efforts to protect Jewish communities across the country so that such a tragedy never again takes place.” — Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress 
Andrea Wedner, surrounded by family members, addresses the media and community after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trail verdict. Wedner's mother, Rose Mallinger, was killed in the 2018 attack.

Oliver Morrison / 90.5 WESA

Andrea Wedner, surrounded by family members, addresses the media and community after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trail verdict. Wedner’s mother, Rose Mallinger, was killed in the 2018 attack.

Families, congregations react

Members of the victims’ families and the congregations whose worshiping members were targeted and attacked also shared these responses:

  • “It is with great appreciation and respect that the family of Bernice and Sylvan Simon wholeheartedly expresses our extreme gratitude to the entire jury for their service during this very long and arduous trial.In the course of performing their civic duty, they unselfishly endured great personal sacrifice, time away from family, friends, and work; as well as being disconnected from many everyday activities. They patiently and very attentively listened to all of the testimony and scrutinized the voluminous amount of evidence presented throughout the entire trial.

    We fully respect their verdict and decisions.” — The family of Bernice and Sylvan Simon, who died in the attack

  • “We thank the jury for their hard work and determination while upholding the law. We know the evidence has not been easy to see or hear, and we will never be able to thank them enough for their poise and professionalism.Although we will never attain closure from the loss of our beloved Rose Mallinger, we now feel a measure of justice has been served. This sentence is a testament to our justice system and a message to all that this type of heinous act will not be tolerated. Returning a sentence of death is not a decision that comes easy, but we must hold accountable those who wish to commit such terrible acts of antisemitism, hate, and violence.

    We thank the prosecutors and their staff for all their hard work and preparation leading up to and during the trial. We are grateful to the court for their diligence and thoroughness. We also thank the courageous witnesses and family members, the members of local law enforcement and the FBI for their testimony and bravery, and the government experts who all contributed to justice being served.

    Lastly, to those who provided support during the duration of this trial, including local businesses who donated lunches and the volunteers who delivered them, and people who sent snacks, children’s letters and artwork, we truly felt the love and support of the community. Words cannot describe how much it means to us.

    To all the advocates, clergy, community leaders, and leaders of all three congregations, thank you for the long hours and days you have put into supporting us during this difficult time. We especially want to thank the 10.27 Healing Partnership for going above and beyond in providing support. We can never thank you enough for all you have done for us over the last four-plus years.

    May we always remember those who were taken too soon — Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Daniel Stein, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, and Rose Mallinger. May their memories be for a blessing.  The family of Rose Mallinger, who died in the attack, and her daughter, Andrea Wedner, who was wounded but survived

  • “I am thankful for the thoughtful deliberation and hard work of all who got us to today’s decision. Nothing about this process has been easy. I will forever be grateful for all those who have helped our congregation these past four-plus years: the public safety department and law enforcement officers, our fellow Pittsburghers, and people of all faiths and backgrounds from across the country and around the world. While today’s decision is hard, it also marks the start of a new chapter at Tree of Life, and I find myself hopeful because of the love and support we still receive as we continue to heal and move forward.” — Alan Hausman, president of the Tree of Life Congregation
  • “The jury’s decision today marks the end of a very challenging and emotional time for our community, and the beginning of a new chapter filled with strength and optimism for the future. It is my hope that the end of this process brings a sense of closure and healing for the families and survivors, broader Pittsburgh community and the Jewish community.” — Michael Bernstein, chair of the Tree of Life interim governance committee
  • “Today, a jury of his peers unanimously found that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for the worst antisemitic act in the history of the United States – the murder of 11 innocent Jewish worshippers during Shabbat services on Oct. 27, 2018.We would like to thank the jury for their efforts. It is difficult to serve on a jury; it is especially difficult when tasked with the weighty decision they faced. We also wish to thank the United States Attorney’s Pittsburgh Office for their thorough and effective presentations and cross-examinations. While the shooter did not testify, the prosecution ensured that his words echoed through the testimony of both prosecution and defense witnesses. Finally, our heartfelt thanks go to Judge Colville for the respect and humanity shown throughout the trial.

    The trial offered clear and compelling evidence that the heinous acts of the shooter were premeditated with the intent to kill. The shooter said — through the many defense and prosecution witnesses — that he intended to kill Jews. He did not see “people” as he walked the halls but “targets.” He said that his only regret was that he did not kill more.

    And now the jury has unanimously decided that he should die for his deeds. As a congregation, we were prepared to accept either decision: death or life in prison. Many of our members prefer that the shooter spend the rest of his life in prison, questioning whether we should seek vengeance or revenge against him or whether his death would “make up” for the lost lives. Vigorous debate continues about the purpose the death penalty serves.

    Yet Attorneys General Barr and Garland concluded that this case was different, that the death penalty was appropriate. New Light Congregation agrees with the government’s position that no one may murder innocent individuals simply because of their religion.

    We take this position not out of a desire to seek revenge or to “even the score” but because we believe that the shooter crossed a line. Too often in the past — and not just the recent past — governments and religious authorities have looked away when murder and mayhem occurred against Jews. Too often in the past, these actions were sanctioned and championed by governmental authorities. Too often, perpetrators have been allowed to celebrate their depravity. Life in prison without parole would allow the shooter to celebrate his deed for many years.

    New Light Congregation accepts the jury’s decision and believes that, as a society, we need to take a stand that this act requires the ultimate penalty under the law. — Members of New Light Congregation

  • The jury today issued its final verdict in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre case. The perpetrator of the deadliest act of antisemitic violence in American history has been sentenced to the maximum penalty for his crimes.We feel immense gratitude to the many participants in the judicial process. We would like to thank each juror, including the alternates, who took on the grave and important responsibility of serving on this jury. We also thank Judge Colville and his staff for their consistent professionalism and decorum.

    We give special thanks to all the prosecutors and other Justice Department employees who worked so long and hard, and with such excellence, to bring us to this day, and who have treated the families and victims with the utmost consideration and sensitivity for the past four-and-a-half years. Above all, we thank the law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm’s way on Oct. 27, 2018, and saved many lives.

    What happened on Oct. 27, 2018 is never far from our minds. Eleven innocent people were murdered simply because they were Jews. Do not forget them. They were:

    Joyce Fienberg Bernice Simon

    Richard Gottfried Sylvan Simon

    Rose Mallinger Daniel Stein

    Jerry Rabinowitz Melvin Wax

    Cecil Rosenthal Irving Younger

    David Rosenthal

    They were killed because they were Jews. Our public discourse in this country has shifted to allow antisemitism and white supremacy into the mainstream. Our elected officials and the media need to combat white supremacist lies that the “white race” is in danger of being replaced and Jews are to blame. And easy access to guns allows hate-filled people to make their antisemitic beliefs deadly.

    Politicians, legislators, religious leaders, and others in positions of power must recognize that their rhetoric has power and renounce such bigotry and hatred. We must all learn to recognize antisemitism, which can surface in a wide range of speech and conduct, and call it out each and every time we see it.

    We will always remember the eleven lost and hold them in our hearts, along with their family members and the survivors. And we will strive to treat each other with kindness and caring, following the example of our beloved Jerry Rabinowitz. — Congregation Dor Hadash

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