Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers delivered a poignant sermon on Saturday in which he blamed politicians for a rise in “hate speech” across the country — a troubling trend that he said led to the recent massacre at his synagogue in Pittsburgh, CNN reported.
Myers shared his message with three Tree of Life congregations that came together to attend the synagogue’s first Shabbat services since the mass shooting. The rabbi said he had shared the same message with Donald Trump when he met with the president in Pittsburgh last week.
“I said to him, ‘Mr. President, hate speech leads to hateful actions. Hate speech leads to what happened in my sanctuary... I witnessed it with my eyes,’” Myers said.
Eleven people were killed on the morning of Oct. 27 when a gunman entered the synagogue as Shabbat services were just getting underway. The gunman reportedly shouted “All Jews must die!” before opening fire in different areas of the building.
“It seemed like a typical morning,” Myers recalled in an ABC News interview. “The usuals were there. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in any way, shape or form. I’m not hyper-vigilant but you’re always looking to see, all right, is there something out of place? I’ve just been over the years readily trained to do that. But all seemed good. All was ready.”
Myers said that he and a dozen congregants were just beginning service in the sanctuary upstairs when the first rounds of gunfire were heard. The rabbi managed to evacuate some people out of a side door ― but eight congregants remained behind.
“One of them was wounded. Thank God, she will survive her injuries,” Myers said. The remaining seven people were killed.
The alleged shooter, Robert Bowers, had posted anti-Semitic tirades on social media. He was arrested at the synagogue after being wounded by police who responded to the shootings.
Myers was criticized by some for meeting with Trump during the president’s controversial visit to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The rabbi said he’d received death threats for saying Trump was welcome at the synagogue. Following the get-together, Myers said he was “pleasantly surprised” to discover a “warm and personal side” to Trump.
In his sermon on Saturday, Myers said he’d drawn on “lessons from Jewish tradition in welcoming the president” to Pittsburgh, CNN reported.
And though he called out politicians generally for fueling hateful rhetoric in the U.S., Myers stressed that he does not “foist blame” on Trump or “any one person” for the mass shooting.
Myers, who wore a rainbow-colored prayer shawl during his Saturday sermon, has been appealing to politicians to tone down their inflammatory rhetoric in the aftermath of the synagogue tragedy.
“We’ve got to stop hate and it can’t just be to say we need to stop hate. We need... to tone down rhetoric. Hate is not welcome here in Pittsburgh. It should not be welcome in our borders at all,” the rabbi said on NBC’s “Today” show last week.