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Tree of Life rabbi says community can ‘begin to heal’ after shooter sentenced

A rabbi who survived the 2018 attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 worshipers said the shooter’s sentencing on Wednesday provided closure to the community still reeling from the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

US Jewish groups also welcomed the sentencing, although most refrained from applauding the death sentence for convicted killer Robert Bowers, which had divided some victims of the shooting ahead of its announcement.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Congregation, one of three congregations that had gathered at the synagogue for Shabbat at the time of the attack, said the verdict marks “the closing chapter of an emotional, months-long trial.”

“Many of us have been stuck in neutral. It was a challenge to move forward with the looming specter of a murder trial,” Myers said in a statement. “Now that the trial is nearly over and the jury has recommended a death sentence, it is my hope that we can begin to heal and move forward.”

Alan Hausman, the president of the Tree of Life Congregation, said, “While today’s decision is hard, it also marks the start of a new chapter at Tree of Life, and I find myself hopeful because of the love and support we still receive as we continue to heal and move forward.”

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The American Jewish Committee said that the victims should be top of mind while the community processes the death sentence.

“Ultimately what is of most significance is not how the shooter will spend the end of his life, but the fact that the US government pursued this case with vigor and demonstrated that such crimes will not be countenanced, excused, or minimized,” the American Jewish Committee said.

The Jewish Federations of North America also directed its statement toward the victims, and added, “We are grateful to the prosecution team for their meticulous process to seek justice for the victims, and we are grateful to the jury for their time and dedication in reaching this sentence.”

The Anti-Defamation League said, “We know this is a hard day for many, especially in Pittsburgh. We must keep working to protect Jewish communities from the horrors of antisemitism.”

Some groups applauded the death sentence, with Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, calling it “a measure of justice.”

“The jury’s decision is a stark reminder to remain vigilant about countering antisemitism, wherever it may hide,” Lauder said in a statement.

Michael Masters, the head of the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for US Jewish organizations, said the sentence “sends a message to violent extremists, terrorists, and antisemites everywhere that the United States will not tolerate hate and violence against the Jewish people, nor any people of faith.”