Despite mixed reactions, Trump visits Pittsburgh in aftermath of synagogue shooting

October 31, 2018 by Jackson Richman - JNS
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Despite mixed reactions, U.S. President Donald Trump visited Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighbourhood on Tuesday in the aftermath of a gunman killing 11 people and injuring six others at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue.

U.S. President Donald Trump huddles in prayer outside the Tree of Life Synagogue with Israeli Amb. to the U.S. Ron Dermer, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, First Lady Melania Trump, as the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, look on. Credit: David Aaronson/Twitter.

The visit comes as the community buried the first of the victims on Tuesday.

The president was accompanied by his wife Melania, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine.

Also accompanying the president were his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka and Jared Kushner, as well as senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin – all of whom are Jewish.

Additionally, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer was on the ground and greeted the president and his wife.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders declined to join the visit.

Accompanied by Tree of Life Synagogue’s Rabbi Jeffrey Myers – who reportedly received hate mail for saying he would welcome Trump –  the president and first lady visited the memorials outside the synagogue and lit a candle inside the building for each of the victims.

The president also visited the hospital where the four officers who were wounded at the synagogue while trying to stop the suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, are recovering.

‘President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh’ 

Shortly before the visit, there were conflicting views over whether the president should pay his respects.

The left-wing activist group Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, released a scathing open-letter in opposition to a Trump visit.

“For the past three years, your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence,” it stated. “President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.”

Bend the Arc has been accused by conservative media of fomenting an anti-Trump sentiment ahead of the visit.

Pittsburgh native Max Ungar agreed with those who say Trump should not be visiting Squirrel Hill.

“Our president has difficulty meeting even these baseline standards in his reaction,” he told JNS. “His first response is to blame the synagogue for not having armed guards? He can’t immediately acknowledge the impetus behind the shooting?”

“Trump makes his values clear by where he places his emphasis: on vilifying refugees and the downtrodden of our society and praising alt-right conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, who intentionally cause more wanton suffering for communities affected by these tragedies,” added Ungar. “The president has made clear that his values severely contradict those of the Pittsburgh community, and he is not welcome here.”

However, other Pittsburgh residents responded differently.

“I think whether or not the president comes is a decision that should be made by those closest to the victims and the three congregations attacked,” Joel Mackler, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, told JNS.

Lauren – a Jewish Squirrel Hill native, who requested to withhold their last name for privacy reasons – told JNS that whether the president visits is not as big an issue compared to the need to appoint the State Department’s point person on anti-Semitism.

“Squirrel Hill is exemplary of a diverse and true community. Anti-Semitism predated this administration and will continue afterwards,” said Lauren. “President Trump should fill the special-envoy role to combat anti-Semitism while he visits in Pittsburgh.”

In September, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill by a vote of 393-2 that would elevate the State Department official who deals with the issue of anti-Semitism from envoy to ambassador. A Senate version of the bill is pending. Were the bill to become law, the president would be required to fill the position within 90 days.

“This would show the victims’ families and the community as a whole that the administration is taking action towards ensuring national policy implementation that will hopefully prevent future attacks and promote diversity in our country once again,” added Lauren.

Yosef –  another Jewish resident, who also requested to withhold their last name for privacy reasons – told JNS: “As long as he is coming to support the community and families, and not for a personal agenda, I have no problem with it.”

Report from Jackson Richman/JNS


One Response to “Despite mixed reactions, Trump visits Pittsburgh in aftermath of synagogue shooting”
  1. Dr George Foster says:

    How sad that those who did not oppose the President’s visit felt obliged to withhold their names “for privacy reasons”, obviously fearing negative comments such as that received by the rabbi. Whatever else he may be, the President is certainly not antisemitic as evidenced by his family connections and his support of Israel amongst other things. Those who vilify others for their views alone should be ashamed of themselves. After all antisemitism and attacks on Jews have existed for over two thousand years. We should be far more focused on the current rise in antisemitism than scoring political points before the tragic victims have even been buried – May their memories be blessed.

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