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Synagogue shooting has local tie; protection for Jewish communities increased

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    Deborah Artman, of Catskill, speaks about her mother’s experience with the fatal Pittsburgh synagogue shooting at the prayer vigil on Sunday at Temple Israel.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media The prayer vigil at Temple Israel on Sunday closed with a prayer for peace, in which all members of the community, of various religious backgrounds, joined hands in song and prayer.
October 29, 2018 10:02 pm

State police will increase patrols around local places of worship following Saturday’s deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The mass shooting claimed the lives of 11 individuals — eight men and three women — and injured six others at the Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill district of Pittsburgh. It is considered one of the most deadly attacks against the Jewish community in the U.S., according to The New York Times.

After shooting 11 congregants inside the synagogue, the gunman, identified by authorities as Robert Bowers, turned his weapons on police. Barricading himself on an upper floor, Bowers engaged in a desperate shootout that left him and four police officers wounded.

Saturday’s attack in the Tree of Life synagogue ended when Bowers surrendered to police officers while wounded and crawling on his knees. He “wanted all Jews to die,” he told a SWAT officer, authorities said, because Jews “were committing genocide against his people.”

The attack hit too close to home for Deborah Artman, of Catskill, who grew up just three blocks from the Pittsburgh synagogue.

“My family is in the congregation,” she said fighting back tears.

Artman’s mother sent her an email Sunday morning, saying she had been running late to get to the services.

“When she got there, she was turned away by the police,” Deborah said.

Artman’s mother later found out the man she sat next to every day at the synagogue had been killed, Deborah said.

“I wanted everyone to know how close it can be to all of our lives,” Artman said. “My brother said Squirrel Hill will now be known as where the Jews were killed. Prior that I thought it was just a funny word.”

The Tree of Life Congregation is a very tight-knit community, Artman recalled.

“I know they will come together in this time,” she said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered state police to step up patrols around synagogues and other houses of worship in the area in response to Saturday’s shooting.

“While the nation awaits further details of what occurred, initial reports suggest that this senseless act of gun violence was an anti-Semitic attack and we stand together with the Jewish community in this difficult time as we always have before,” Cuomo said. “As a precaution, I have directed state police to increase patrols around Jewish centers and houses of worship across the state.

“We, as a nation, must stand together and stand against the corrosive and destructive forces of hate in all of its forms.”

State police Public Information Officer Aaron Hicks declined to release details about the state police’s strategy for increased patrols in the region.

Increasing the police presence at Temple Israel, a synagogue on Spring Street in the village of Catskill, is a definite possibility Catskill Police Chief David Darling said.

“I’ll be looking into it,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anyone up there yet, but I plan to.”

Hudson police are looking into increasing protection at Congregation Anshe Emeth, a synagogue on Joslen Boulevard in Hudson, but has nothing specific was planned Monday, Chief Edward Moore said.

“I’m actually meeting with Rabbi [Daniel] Fried [on Tuesday] about an unrelated matter and we will talk about that,” he said.

Temple Israel held a prayer vigil Sunday in memory of the victims of Saturday’s massacre in Pittsburgh.

Congregations of various faiths and other community members gathered at Temple Israel and joined hands in song and prayer.

“People don’t know what to do [when something like this happens],” Rabbi Zoe B. Zak said. “One instinct is to hide, one is to come together and help each other stand up. That’s what we did here tonight.”

Clergy members from United Methodist Church in Catskill and Palenville, St. Patrick’s Church in Athens and Catskill, Christ Episcopal Church in Hudson, United Methodist Church in High Hill, Athens Federated Church, First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, Our Lady of Hope in Copake, St. Luke’s Episcopal Parish in Catskill, Woodstock Jewish Congregation and First Dutch Reformed Church were in attendance.

Everyone was asked to sign a guestbook that would later be sent to the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Reb Pauline Tamari said.

“We want them to know we’re thinking of them,” she added. “...We have a saying in Yiddish that we need to repair the world,” Tamari said. “How do we even begin to do that? Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi would say that to heal the world, you must feel the world.”

Zak opened the vigil with a psalm and read aloud the names of the victims of the shooting.

“Our prayers are not only for this community, but for all communities or individuals who are the target of violence,” she said. “If we are to love the stranger, we have to get to know those that are different… We are all children of the same God.”

Other clergy members shared their thoughts on the tragedy.

“It’s so hard to say I’m not going to let someone else’s actions change who I am,” Pastor Catherine Schuyler said. “I give thanks for the opportunity to stand here together and say this is who we are. No, we will not let fear define us, we will let love define us.”

Cantor Suzanne Bernstein, of Catskill, did a musical performance for the audience.

“I’m so moved to see how the community comes together on a difficult day like this,” she said. “Everybody should be safe and welcome in mosques and synagogues.”

Political figures released statements offering condolences and displaying outrage that a place of peace had been so marred by violence.

“This morning’s attack at the Tree of Life synagogue is an abhorrent display of anti-Semitism and hate,” U.S. Rep. John Faso said in a statement Saturday. “All places of worship are supposed to be havens to reflect and pray. This sick individual is a terrorist whose goal is to strike fear in a community. His actions and goals will not prevail, and we can’t allow for his hate to fester.”

The New York Times contributed to this report.

The climate of hate fanning the flames of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant prejudice did not come from out of the blue. It came from Trump and the national rhetoric seeded and inflamed by documented Russian hacking. Two weeks ago, on October 19th, the U.S. Eastern District Court in Virginia, delivered a complaint <> entered on Sept. 18 that named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, and charged her with conspiracy to defraud the United States for managing the financing of the social media troll operation that included the Internet Research Agency, which special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators charged with crimes earlier this year. Federal prosecutors say she aided the Russian effort to "inflame passions" online related to immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women's March and the NFL National Anthem debate from December 2016 until May 2018. Sound familiar? All these issues have been in the forefront of Trump's Tweets and campaign rhetoric. We are reaping the tragedy that the politics of division have sown. Sadly, most of Rep. Faso's rhetoric and ads about "rappers" have been similarly inflammatory and divisive in nature.

I don't want to be looking at armed state troopers having to defend our houses of worship. Nor do I want to see armed police guarding our children and schools. All of this is a swing to the fascism where the same hate resides that seeks to resolve politics with bloodshed, and relies on ugly prejudice to swing its vote. This is not America. This resembles the puzzling "American Carnage" that Trump kept referring to in his strange and Dystopian Inaugural Address and it is a promise that I do not want to see 'kept.'
Thanks. The mayor of Pittsburg provided the most valuable temperament, that we cannot be too diverted by things that are just not sensical. The gathering at Temple Israel of Catskill provided grounding and shared genuine compassion. May be all achieve peace.