By Staff Writer James Mellen III
During morning Shabbat prayer hours on October 27 2018, Robert Gregory Bowers assaulted The Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in a mass shooting. The attack took the lives of eleven people and injured seven more. This was the most lethal attack on the Jewish community in American history.
As the gunman entered the Synagogue, he was greeted by the door attendant. After being welcomed by the Jewish community with open arms, he yelled “All Jews Must Die” and opened fire on the people inside for approximately twenty minutes. Included in the eleven to die in the attack were a pair of brothers (Cecil and David Rosenthal 59 and 54 respectively), a married couple (Bernice and Sylvan Simon, 84 and 86), and Rose Mallinger – a woman who was 23 years old at the end of the Holocaust.
Robert Gregory Bowers’ motives were anti-Semitic. Frequently using the far right website Gab, he spread his theory that Jewish people were responsible for White genocide. Bowers’ profile proudly displayed the number 1488, a number used by White supremacists to reference David Lane’s fourteen words, and Hail Hitler. The website shut down after the emergence of Bower’s profile.
Bower is being charged by the US Department of Justice with twenty-nine federal crimes along with thirty-six state criminal counts, the charges carry a maximum penalty of 525 years in prison, or death. On November 1, Bower pleaded not guilty.
On Tuesday October 30, UMass Dartmouth’s Center for Jewish Culture hosted a vigil in the Library Grand Reading Room for the tragic lives lost. The vigil titled “When Evil Enters Our World,” feature a number of speakers from various organizations on campus. Some speakers were Jewish themselves, some belonged to other faiths, some were students, and some were staff, but all spoke the same message: we all must stand up against hate.
Chancellor Johnson was the first speaker, establishing UMass Dartmouth as a “community of learners” and describing what this meant. The chancellor spoke about being in the lives of those around us “for a reason, for a season or for a lifetime.” Johnson further establishes that the UMass Dartmouth community needs to be ready to touch the lives of anyone we meet in a positive and effective way.
With a heavy heart, the Chancellor told the crowd that, “as a community of learners, When evil prevails we must rise up and not be a silent majority.” The chancellor made it very clear that no form of hatred will be allowed at UMass Dartmouth. The chancellor’s chief of staff Donna Lisker (pictured above) addresses the audience, “not as the chancellor’s chief of staff, but as a Pennsylvania native and as a Jew.”
She spoke about her childhood synagogue as a place of community and religious practice alike. Telling stories of “friends making you laugh so the Rabbi would glare at you,”
Lisker spoke of senior members of her synagogue, still brandishing their tattoos from the holocaust. She spoke of the fear that those tattoos instilled in the younger generation, “it happened in the old country, and it could happen here too.”
Professor of history Dr. Ilana Offenberger, spoke about her grandmother, who fled from Vienna, and her tireless fight against intolerance. Dr. Offenberger told the crowd about the countless times she’s told she works too hard to bring the truth of the holocaust to light. She speaks of the countless times she had been asked “why” she continues to fight against intolerance.
She told a story about her grandmother and the one “four letter word” that was never allowed in her home: hate. Her grandmother stayed true to this rule because “she understood the power of words, words [can] turn into action.” In the end, Dr. Offenberger answers why she fights to end intolerance, “Because I can and for as long as I can speak and fight hatred and bigotry and spread tolerance, I will.”
The vigil ended with a cello rendition of “America the Beautiful” and the UMass Dartmouth’s church choirs rendition of “We Are the World.”