Pittsburg Synagogue Attack : Reflections from Rabbi Naomi Kalish  

 In Judaism

The massacre in Pittsburg synagogue has shocked everyone. The grisly mass shooting on worshippers was the most inhuman act of violence and insanity. As a jewish rabbi and faithful devotee of Judaism Naomi Kalish is peacefully living in Hokoben, New Jersey. Now, she feels that this is a threat to the Jewish Community. Read her thoughts after the fateful incident…

Pittsburg Synagogue Attack : Reflections from Rabbi Naomi Kalish

  • Rabbi Naomi Kalish

Officers from the police force of my city of Hoboken, New Jersey arrived at my synagogue on Saturday morning during services, to let the rabbi of the congregation know about a violent attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and telling him that they would be increasing their presence outside and around our building today and for the near future.

Had they not informed us during services, we wouldn’t have known about the tragedy until many hours later, because we don’t use electronic devices on the Sabbath. My family and I waited anxiously until an hour after sunset when we would learn more.

We learned that the attack took place during Shabbat prayer services at a synagogue named “Tree of Life,” a reference to the Biblical verse “[The Torah] is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and whoever holds on to her is happy.” (Mishlei 3:18) This congregation put the mitzvah (commandment) to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19) at its core.

We learned that the perpetrator was a white supremacist who spewed antisemitic slurs on Facebook and during the attack. He targeted this synagogue because of its support for refugees and specifically HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the oldest refugee organization in the United States that began to support Jewish refugees and now Supports refugees from various countries.  Last week, 250 synagogues around the United States, including my synagogue, participated in “Refugee Shabbat” and hosted speakers about the importance of welcoming refugees.  If this in fact was what provoked this attacker, then it is not hard to imagine that he could just as easily have targeted my synagogue.

I began receiving texts and emails and seeing posts from family and friends, colleagues, and community leaders giving statements of support, solidarity and comfort. The first messages I received were from a friend who is a Palestinian American Muslim and from a friend who is Catholic and teaches at a Catholic university. The care and concern I received came from friends from across the spectrum of world religion – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist. The messages of support came from around the world – India, the U.K., the Netherlands, Serbia, the Ukraine, Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Indonesia.

These relationships exist because I, as a Jew and as a rabbi, along with others have chosen to work in a professional field dedicated to caring for people from diverse backgrounds (hospital chaplaincy) and to be active in organizations and communities – such as Brotherhood Sisterhood Association of Hudson County, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, the KAICIID Dialogue Center – that center dialogue, diversity, caring, compassion and peace.

As the names became known, my family and my synagogue community learned that we know dozens of people who are connected directly to the victims.

Judaism has strong rituals for death and bereavement. The dead will be buried within the next couple days and a week of mourning will begin for the immediate family with support from the community. We will say the traditional words haMakom Yenachem etchem, “May G-d comfort you,” to the bereaved. This was a terrorist attack against the entire Jewish community and we will continue to hold vigils and memorial services around the United States and around the world (services were held in Warsaw and Hungary on Sunday). We will continue to sing songs to give us courage and strength, like Rabbi Nachman of Breslov song “The whole world / Is a very narrow bridge / and the main thing is to have no fear at all.”

We will choose life and we will cling to the Torah. We will continue going to synagogue. We will honor the deceased and donate to causes that continue their legacy. Tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to HIAS since the attack. We will become even more resolute in our commitment to end bigotry and hate and we will continue to join with our brothers and sisters in a broader coalition and community for peace.


“Rabbi Naomi Kalish serves as the Coordinator of Pastoral Care and Education at the New York Presbyterian Hospital / Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and is a KAICIID International Fellow in Interreligious Dialogue.”

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