I Went to the Tree of Life Synagogue and What I Found Surprised Me

I went to the Tree of Life Synagogue on Friday to follow up on the horrific slaughter of eleven innocent Jewish people by a man with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns who shouted anti-Semitic hate as he was shooting, and I was surprised by what I felt and found.

The first thing I found was love.

I wasn’t expecting love. I was expecting and found: Horror. Grief. Sadness. Powerlessness. But I also found something so much bigger. I found so much love.

Listen To Sarah Jones share what she saw at the Tree of Life Synagogue on the Politicus Pod:

People from all walks of life, all religions, all races gathered to show their respect, to be a force for good, to be a part of the ongoing vigil.

Love was in the often hand-written messages delivered and brought from people all over the country.

Rain drizzled on messages of love:

“Pittsburgh, you’re not alone,” “Love is stronger than hate,” “Peace, love, and justice,” “Continue to show deep love for each other,” “We the People” and “Disarm hate” on Everytown pro gun control signs, “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” “We are strong,” and “Hate has no home here” scattered in between the masses of flowers, teddy bears and sympathy cards.

One framed, hand-written message from a student at Chatham University who heard the gunshots on that horrific day wrote beside a list of the victims’ names: “You are loved. Each and everyone of you…”

The second thing I found was a strong, determined clarity of recognition in the people I spoke to. They all recognized what we are dealing with, what we are up against.

Local resident 71-year old Joseph Thomas, who knew the two brothers – Cecil and David Rosenthal – who were slaughtered, told me before I even had a chance to ask him any questions or tell him that I was a reporter, “Donald Trump is to blame for this. Donald Trump brought the evil out in the world, taking babies away from their mothers. As soon as he got into office, the KKK started recruiting kids. This is Donald Trump’s fault.”

Thomas told me he was a military police officer in Viet Nam, and he’s seen evil, but, “There are more good people than bad people. You’ll see in this election, people are seeing what this man is all about. They know what they’re dealing with now.”

Conservadox Jew Victor Fishman, who came to visit the synagogue from outside of Atlanta, Georgia, told me he never thought he’d see this in our country – see people who fled from the Nazis gunned down in a synagogue in the United States.

Fishman said, speaking for the Jewish community to Trump and Republicans who have encouraged this kind of hate to be directed at Jewish people as well as other communities including the migrants who seek asylum here, “We’d say you can stick your thoughts and prayers up your f*cking a$$es.”

Trump and Republicans aren’t fooling anyone. Trump thinks he used the synagogue as a photo op, and that he changed the press coverage with his rallies and border stunt. But people already know who he is.

The media might have moved on, but here in Pittsburgh, we know exactly what we are dealing with and what needs to be done.

The thing I wasn’t expecting that I hope readers take away from this is: You are not alone. Love for humanity, love for one another, is so much stronger than hate. It is so much stronger than Donald Trump.

Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous and his hate is contagious, but love is still stronger. Love is forever. We will rise up in this election and the next election and on and on until we wash this hate out. We will just keep coming. We won’t give up. We will take strength in one another when we need to, and then we will keep going. Keep coming on.

Never give up on your country or on voting. If you know someone who isn’t voting, please share this article and ask them if they really believe we should be enabling hate rhetoric that motivates mass murder of innocent people and if we really don’t need any changes to our gun culture.

We are so much better than this. We can form a circle of love around this community and others who have suffered from hate crimes, we can promise them we will vote. We will do it for love.

I visited the Tree of Life synagogue and found hope. For the first time since Donald Trump took office, I felt the power of love rise up with clarity and strength that won’t be denied, and I have hope now for us all.

It’s tragic that these eleven people were murdered, but they will never be forgotten. They are the light leading us to the best in humanity.

The victims’ names we must never forget are: Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.

Here’s a photo gallery: