Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, a survivor of the Oct. 27, 2018, shooting at the Tree of Life building, was a featured speaker during an April 14 webinar on hate crimes hosted by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine, the president of the National Association of Attorneys General.
NAAG is a nonpartisan national forum for attorneys general. Each year, the president of NAAG identifies an issue for which to raise public awareness and suggest solutions. This year’s focus, which began in December, is on the rise of hate crimes. As part of the initiative, in February NAAG partnered with the American Jewish Committee, which provided virtual training on identifying and combating anti-Semitism.
Joining Myers during last week’s webinar were Jeff Binkley, whose daughter Maura was murdered by a misogynist member of the incel subculture at a Tallahassee, Florida, yoga studio in November 2018; Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed on Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a car deliberately drove into a crowd of counter-demonstrators protesting at the Unite the Right rally; and Pardeep Kaleka, whose father was murdered along with five others in August 2012, during an attack at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Through this year’s initiative, dubbed “The People v. Hate,” Racine said he hopes to “raise our collective consciousness,” to find a bi-partisan understanding of hate and to strategize ways to prevent hate crimes from occurring. Another aim, he said, is to support those who have been impacted by hate crimes.
According to FBI statistics, Racine said, there were 51 murders attributed to hate crimes in 2019 — the deadliest year on record. Most hate crimes are unreported, though, so the actual number could be higher. While groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center track hate crimes, Racine believes the government should be doing that work.
“When one group is at risk, we are all at risk,” he said. “Elected officials have a critical role to play in countering and preventing violence.”
Myers described the events of Oct. 27, from the time the congregants first heard the sound of gunfire until the rabbi was able to call for help from his cell phone — which he had only recently begun carrying to shul in the case of an emergency. He spoke of the lingering guilt he felt in wondering if he could have done more to save more people, and the balance between safety and openness that congregations must weigh when establishing security measures.
Myers also spoke of the aftermath of the attack, and how Jewish Pittsburgh was enveloped and supported by people “of all faiths, all colors.”
Finally, in this age of divisiveness, the rabbi emphasized the importance of “toning down our language, toning down the dialogue.” PJC
— Toby Tabachnick