Jewish communities will not be 'cowed' from from helping refugees after Pittsburgh

'We were refugees once and we were offered a helping hand,' rabbi says after suspected shooter railed against 'invaders'


Jews will not be "cowed" from helping refugees, community leaders have vowed after the Pittsburgh shooting suspect reportedly targeted the synagogue for the community's charity work.

Before Saturday's attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in which 11 people were murdered, suspect Robert Bowers reportedly wrote on social media that HIAS, a Jewish agency that resettles refugees, "likes to bring in invaders to kill our people."

Speaking to the JC, UK Jewish groups that run drop-in centres for asylum seekers said they would not be deterred.

Rabbi Mordechai Ginsbury, of Hendon United Synagogue, said his community ran its monthly drop-in centre as usual the day after the attack. 

"It felt like a poignant thing to be doing... If you cower to these people then they have won. It is our duty to be proud of the work we do in trying to make things better and not worse,” he said.

Rabbi Ginsbury, whose grandparents, Ernst and Lotte Frohwein came to Britain as refugees from the Nazis in 1938, said: “We were refugees once and we were offered a helping hand.

“If my family had they not been granted sanctuary in the UK, I and many, many dozens of their other descendants would, in all probability, not be here to tell the tale."

The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (Jcore) said it was horrified at the “antisemitic trope” Bowers expressed “that Jews are responsible for 'polluting society' by helping to support minority groups.”

Jcore director Edie Friedman said: “Support for refugee projects is integral to both Jewish teaching and our own refugee experience.”

She said she hoped the alleged words of the shooter would “galvanise us to do even more”.

“Too many throughout our history have tried to silence us and we must  never give them that victory,” she said.

Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg, of Woodford Forest shul in East London, said his community would “double” its efforts to help refugees.

Rabbi Wollenberg, who set up the shul's own drop-in centre after the positive response to the one in Hendon, said there was a "misconception that the Orthodox community don’t care about what it happening in wider society".

“That is not true, our members are engaged, they care and they want to help refugees. No one can stop us doing that,” he said.

“Whatever this evil murderer said doesn’t matter. To these people the Jewish people will always be wrong. But we have to do what is right."

Sara Nathan, who helps run Refugees at Home, a charity whose volunteers accommodate asylum seekers and refugees, said she hoped more people would volunteer in the wake of the Pittsburgh attack.

“Many of our hosts and supporters and some of our volunteers and trustees are Jewish," she said.

One man, an observant Muslim from Sudan, who stayed with a family from Finchley Reform Synagogue for five months told her how "Jewish organisations had, as he put it, ‘saved his life',” she said.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive