Jewish leaders who lost congregants insay armed guards should be present at synagogues. Their opinions are part of a Lesley Stahl report from Pittsburgh, a city that has rallied to support Tree of Life synagogue a year after 11 worshippers were murdered inside the building. Stahl's story will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, October 20, at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
A gunman carrying three handguns and an AR-15 who had posted anti-Semitic rants on social media carried out the deadly attack on October 27, 2018. In addition to the 11 dead, two congregants and five first responders were injured. The building is actually home to three separate and distinct congregations: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light. All suffered losses. And all have struggled in the past year to make sense and meaning of the tragedy that upended their lives and sanctuary. New Light co-president Stephen Cohen says he doesn't believe his congregation should become active "as a congregation" in the gun control debate. But in a joint interview with New Light's rabbi, Jonathan Perlman, both agreed on the need to physically protect congregants. Both unhesitatingly answer "yes" when Stahl asks whether every single synagogue in the U.S. should have an armed guard.
"What were we thinking? We thought we're so safe in America?" asks Perlman. "Every single synagogue in Europe has an armed guard. The tragedy is that, you know, it shouldn't be an act of courage to enter a house of worship," he says.
Support from the city in the immediate aftermath of the massacrewith signs and stickers posted all over town, in front of the synagogue, moments of silence at sports events and interfaith vigils. Stahl interviewed Wasi Mohamed, the lay leader of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. The mosque jumped to help and raise burial money for their Jewish neighbors. Mohamed tells Stahl his community can relate to this tragedy. "We understand this more so than a lot of communities do, unfortunately. We can understand this pain and the fear of lack of security," says Mohamed. He says attacking people where they would expect to be at their safest, is not a new tactic. "Black churches have never been safe… mosques have never been safe in this country. Synagogues have always been targets. It's been used as a fear tactic against our communities for generations since this country was founded. [The message is] 'If you're not safe in this sanctuary, you're just not safe here, leave.'"
Members of Tree of Life were quick to reciprocate. When a gunman killed 51 worshippers at mosques in New Zealand last March, Pittsburgh Jews responded by standing guard and vigil outside the mosque. "We've had Jewish community members outside the Islamic center holding signs, saying they love us, they welcome us… It's special," says Mohamed.