Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel said it was “very encouraging” to see such a tremendous show of support from people outside of the Jewish community after Saturday's mass shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue.
While those in the community are suffering and having a difficult times going back to normal life, Vogel says community members have to "concentrate on bringing more lightness."
"The gut reaction is to hunker down, cover ourselves and not let the outside in," he says. "And we've got to stand stronger than that. We've got to get up, get out into the community and bring more light into this world."
Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd speaks with Vogul, executive director at the Aleph Institute, a Jewish humanitarian organization in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where Saturday's shooting took place.
On how the community is coping with the tragedy
“It's a tough morning. It's a tough day as we get up to what should be a normal work week. But people are suffering. Those who have to go to work have called how difficult it was today to go to work, to begin life normal after the tremendous tragedy that we're still in the middle of. We haven't buried our loved ones yet. And it's a terrible moment to be in in this time.
“The Talmud teaches us that a small light dispels much darkness, and in times like this, we have to remember that the more light we bring, the more darkness we're going to dispel, and the better the world is around us.”
"It's difficult, no question it's challenging to get up, but we have to use the strength to get back and do what we've got to do and to bring light into this world."Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel
On where he was when the shooting was happened
“I was at services with others, and then we find out, so all synagogues went into a state of lockdown. … The community had gone through a preparedness program months ago in case, God forbid, a horrible event like took place over the weekend were to happen, and we hunkered down when all the synagogues went into lockdown mode.
“The rabbis and all the synagogues, we all instructed, 'We've got to continue with services.' Unless we're in emergency services where we have to go to the hospitals — and some of us did have to go to the hospitals to provide emergency care for those who were coming in — the rest, we've got to continue with our services.
“We carried on with the services ... because that's what we've got to do. We've got to stay focused, where are we going, what's going on, and even today, morning services were regular. It's difficult, no question it's challenging to get up, but we have to use the strength to get back and do what we've got to do and to bring light into this world.”
On the Squirrel Hill neighborhood
“This is the heartbeat of the Jewish community. It's a beautiful neighborhood. We've got synagogues from all denominations. We've got kosher stores. We have all kinds of agencies providing services in this community. It's a beautiful community, and it will continue to be a beautiful community. Unfortunately, today the streets are deserted. People are suffering terribly, but we're going to overcome, we're going to stand stronger.
“We've been through our Hamans in our day, we've been through our Hitlers of the day — they're not going to deter us, we're going to bounce back and we're going to be stronger.”
"My 10-year-old daughter asked me on Saturday night, ‘Why are the Jewish people being attacked again?' ... And the answer is that we've got to bring more light."Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel
On how he explained the shooting to his child
“It was a difficult conversation. My 10-year-old daughter asked me on Saturday night, ‘Why are the Jewish people being attacked again? Why are the Jewish people being attacked?’ And the answer is that we've got to bring more light, that we can't push down, we've got to stand stronger.”
On whether he has noticed an increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes
“That's a difficult question. Do I see it? Have we seen a change? I grew up in Manchester, England, where anti-Semitic attacks, growing up in the 70s, was not uncommon. In America, I hadn't seen that. I'm living here 28 years, 30 years in America, I'd never seen that. I had an incident a couple of years ago. I was accosted in the middle of Squirrel Hill, but I hadn't seen that. I think this attack — I hope and I would like to believe — that this is a one-out attack. This is a deranged individual, but it doesn't reflect the vigil that we had last night, the community had last night. [It] was attended by so many, [showing] the support there is in the community.
“I'm not packing up. We're not leaving. We're not going anywhere at this point. Could it happen? Could it be? I would like to think not. I think the country in the whole is a kind country. We live in a very kind and welcoming country, and other individuals out there are hateful. Yes, throughout history, there's always been the Hitlers, who have attacked society, attacked Jewish people. To go and say the entire community, like Germany, [is] going to rise against us and we're seeing such widespread anti-Semitism — I don't think we're at that point.”
On whether he approves of the shooter being sentenced to death
“We know who he is. We know what he did. There has to be the harshest punishment possible. Even though the death penalty is not an answer to most times, but in this time, I think ... it's justified to put this individual to death as soon as possible.”
This segment aired on October 29, 2018.
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