In a short but impassioned sermon Saturday, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers blamed politicians for a rise in hateful rhetoric, saying it led to the massacre at his synagogue last week in which 11 Jews were slain in the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history.
Myers said he delivered that message personally to President Donald Trump when he and first lady Melania Trump visited Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha, the site of the shooting, on Tuesday.
“I said to him, ‘Mr. President, hate speech leads to hateful actions. Hate speech leads to what happened in my sanctuary, where seven of my congregants were slaughtered. I witnessed it with my eyes.”
According police, the man accused of the attack yelled that he wanted to “kill Jews,” in part because Jewish groups have been helping refugees settle in the United States.
Wearing a rainbow-colored prayer shawl and a Pittsburgh-themed yarmulke, the rabbi made his distaste for Washington clear but also said he does not “foist blame” on the President or “any one person” for the attack.
Myers also addressed criticism he has received from fellow Jews irked that he met with Trump, who has been accused of using anti-Semitic tropes and hateful rhetoric. Trump has repeatedly denied the accusations, noting that his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish.
“The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated and cannot be allowed to continue,” Trump said last week.
But after meeting with Trump, Myers said Saturday, some Jews accused the rabbi of “going to the dark side.” One even suggested that he get “un-circumcised.”
“I said, ‘OK, you go first,'” Myers said, drawing laughter from the congregation. More seriously, Myers said he drew on lessons from Jewish tradition in welcoming the President.
More than 600 people filled Congregation Beth Shalom for the Shabbat service, including members of the congregations attacked last week a little more than a mile away at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Members of all three congregations took turns reading the portions of the Torah, which encompasses the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
Earlier on Saturday, members of Pittsburgh’s grieving Jewish community observed a minute and 11 seconds of silence, commemorating the 11 souls who were slain October 27.
“God did not have anything to do with this. That is not our theology. Humans are given free will. We have a choice between good and evil. Some people choose to do evil. Our job is to make sure that those who choose evil don’t have access to assault rifles,” writer Beth Kissileff, wife of the rabbi at New Light Congregation, said to applause.
About a mile away, in front of the still-closed Tree of Life Synagogue, its former rabbi, Chuck Diamond, led a Shabbat service outside on Saturday morning.
“This was a place that stood, for so many people, for joy,” Diamond said. It was the site of bris ceremonies, bar mitzvahs and weddings. The rabbi urged the survivors not to feel guilty, but to remember that they have been blessed with the gift of life.