Biden, Harris make statements marking 3 years since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

'Hate never goes away, it only hides; and if we give hate oxygen, it can consume,' Biden said.

 A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released separate statements on Wednesday as the Jewish world marks three years since the shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue that left 11 people dead.

"Three years ago, on a peaceful Shabbat morning, a lone gunman stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and stole the lives of 11 souls in prayer. Eleven others managed to escape — some with serious physical injuries, others with indelible scars of grief," Biden wrote.

On October 27, 2018, a white supremacist and antisemite stormed the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh's close-knit Jewish community, yelling "All Jews must die" as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning. Eleven people were killed and six were injured in the attack.

"The attack was the deadliest act of antisemitism in our nation’s history," he continued. "It was an assault on members of the Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash congregations, the American Jewish community, and our country. And it was a reminder that hate never goes away, it only hides; and if we give hate oxygen, it can consume."

"But the days, weeks, and months that followed also revealed the unyielding character of a community: The first responders who rushed into harm’s way. The teenagers who organized a Havdalah vigil for a neighborhood in need," he wrote. "The art teacher [who] painted hearts and Stars of David in the windows of a local coffee shop. The designer who formed an iconic image that defined a city and inspired a nation with three simple words: stronger than hate."

The attack came to be seen by many as a watershed moment for American Jews. The amount of antisemitic incidents has been rising for years, and a recent poll by the American Jewish Council (AJC) found that approximately one in four American Jews has been the target of antisemitism over the past 12 months, and 39% have changed their behavior out of fear of antisemitism.

"That day and those that followed remind all of us to embrace the better angels of our nature – and to turn pain into purpose," the president wrote. "We must always stand up and speak out against antisemitism with clarity and conviction, and rally against the forces of hate in all its forms, because silence is complicity. We must recognize in others our shared humanity and strive to summon unexpected faith in unanticipated moments – in the hope that we might heal and rebuild."

US PRESIDENT Joe Biden signs an executive order as Vice President Kamala Harris watches, at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 25. (credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)US PRESIDENT Joe Biden signs an executive order as Vice President Kamala Harris watches, at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 25. (credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

BIDEN THEN stated his administration's commitment to the fight against antisemitism.

"That continues to be the work of my Administration – laying out our country’s first-ever comprehensive strategy to address domestic terrorism, signing legislation aimed at strengthening our efforts to counter unlawful acts of hate, taking executive actions to protect houses of worship, and pressing forward with executive and legislative action to reduce all forms of gun violence.

"This Shabbat, in synagogues around the country, worshipers will sing the timeless words from the Book of Proverbs: Eitz Chayim Hee La’machazikim Bah. 'It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it.'

"As we mark three years since this heinous attack, we resolve to remember the lives lost and commit to protecting a future worthy of their memories," he concluded. "May the survivors and the families of the victims hold fast to the teachings of their faith and find comfort in the embrace of their community and their country."

VICE PRESIDENT Kamala Harris published her own statement.

"In our country, everyone has the right to go to work, to go to school, to walk down the street, to pray – not as the other, not as them, but as us. When a white supremacist murdered and injured innocent people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a harm was committed against all of us. It was an unspeakable act fueled by antisemitic hate, the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community in our Nation’s history. As we remember the victims, we also honor the courage of the first responders," she wrote.

"Today, we know that silence is not an option. More hate crimes were committed in the U.S. last year than at any point in the last 20 years. Our Administration has laid out a comprehensive strategy to address domestic terrorism, and we are working to reduce gun violence. President Joe Biden has taken executive action to protect houses of worship, and he has signed legislation to bolster our capacity to counter unlawful acts of hate," she added.
Harris concluded with a promise.

"We stand in solidarity with the Squirrel Hill community and the entire Jewish community. We will never forget those lives that were taken. And we recommit to combat antisemitism wherever it exists."

Many other Pittsburgh institutions marked the sad day, including some of its renowned sports teams, the Penguins (hockey) and Pirates (baseball).