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October 27, 2021 2:18 pm
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Biden Leads Tributes on Third Anniversary of Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting

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A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Oct. 31, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Cathal McNaughton

President Joe Biden led the tributes to the victims of the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting on Wednesday, marking the third anniversary of the crime.

Eleven worshippers were killed on Oct. 27, 2018 when a far-right racist gunman burst into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat and opened fire, in what was the worst single attack on American Jews in US history.

In a statement released Wednesday, Biden said the attack was “a reminder that hate never goes away, it only hides; and if we give hate oxygen, it can consume.”

“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,” he said. “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.”

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“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. 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,” he concluded.

The Tree of Life Congregation itself tweeted an image of a yizkor candle with the names of the victims, saying, “Today, alongside Congregation Dor Hadash & New Light Congregation, we pause to remember the 11 lives taken from us 3 years ago. Each person left an indelible mark on our community. It is our prayer that their memory be a blessing on this day and all of the days to come.”

“We also honor and continue to support those who were injured and survived the attack,” the congregation said. “We remain grateful for the first responders.”

Local outlet TribLIVE interviewed survivor Carol Black, whose brother Richard Gottfried was killed in the attack.

“Three years out it’s a lot easier than it was in October of 2018,” she said. “The one-year mark was brutal. It was very difficult. It was very, very, very public. We decided going forward to not repeat the parts that were just so hard for the family members to abide.”

“We’re all in a club that nobody wants to belong to, but we take comfort in each other’s company,” she said of the survivors. “We all share loss and we’re people who really didn’t know each other prior to (the shootings). But I feel this very strong bond to not only the family members who lost people, but also to the group of survivors.”

“I made a decision a long time ago that my plan moving forward was to live a joyous life,” Black added. “I think that’s what my brother would have wanted me to do and I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of person. I tend to be happier when I’m looking on the bright side of things.”

The anniversary drew remembrances from a scores of Jewish leaders as well as lawmakers, including Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who was serving at the time of the shooting.

“On this day three years ago, a gunman carried out an antisemitic attack against Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue — Or L’Simcha Congregation. We come together to mourn the 11 lives tragically lost and stand against hate,” Wolf said on Twitter. “Zichona Livracha. May their memories be a blessing.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ Chair Dianne Lob, CEO William Daroff, and Vice Chair Malcolm Hoenlein  issued a statement, saying, “In the years since the shooting, we have witnessed the inspiring courage and resilience of the congregations.”

“As leaders in our community, we have a significant role to fulfill the solemn promise of Never Again,” they said. “This year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation published its 2020 hate crime statistics and again found that Jews comprised the most-targeted religious group in the country. From addressing acts of individual hate speech, to challenging state-organized actions, we must act decisively and immediately to prevent the cancer of antisemitism from infecting and festering in our society.”

Court proceedings are still ongoing in the case of the neo-Nazi gunman who perpetrated the 2018 massacre, with no trial date in sight.

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