The Pittsburgh Jewish community remains vigilant and cautious after recent verbal and physical assaults in Squirrel Hill.
The attacks took place following evening services on successive Sundays.
On June 6, three members of the Orthodox community were verbally assaulted by an assailant identified as a 6-foot-tall Black male carrying a walking stick and shouting antisemitic slurs directed at the victims. That incident took place in the vicinity of Beechwood Boulevard and Denniston Avenue, according to Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
A week later, on June 13, an Orthodox man was physically assaulted near Murray Avenue and Bartlett Street by a Black male while walking home from Shaare Torah Congregation, Brokos said.
“In the whole Jewish community in Pittsburgh, there’s an underlying sense of concern and worry,” said the chair of Congregation Poale Zedeck’s security committee, Rocky Wice. “That’s a sad thing, but it’s a good thing. It makes people more vigilant and aware.”
Brokos said she didn’t have new information about either of the attacks; however, other community members have come forward and reported that they were victims of a similar verbal assault on Friday, June 4. The assailant matched the description of the suspect in the June 6 incident, who is easy to identify, Brokos said, because of his physical appearance and the fact that he carried a walking stick.
Brokos said witnesses reported another similar incident, but she did not offer details as she had not yet spoken to the victim as of press time.
Jonathan Young, president of Shaare Torah Congregation, said the congregation was emailing its members “to remind people to remain vigilant, for children not to walk alone, for people not to walk alone if they can avoid it.”
The reports of the attacks haven’t impacted the congregation’s services, he said, adding that because sundown is late this time of year, it is still daylight when Friday night Shabbat services conclude.
Young said the uptick in antisemitic violence around the globe is troubling.
“We’ve been more vigilant, security-wise, even before the Tree of Life, but certainly since,” he said. “Yes, we’re concerned, but we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Wice said that Poale Zedeck has also cautioned its members to maintain awareness of their surroundings because of the heightened risk.
“We remind our congregation periodically of our internal safety measures of locking down, being aware,” he said.
He also recommends the community take advantage of opportunities for training webinars and Zoom classes offered by the Federation.
Reiterating the advice of Brokos, Wice urged community members to report suspicious activity.
“We emphasize to everybody, ‘see something, say something,’” he said. “Don’t judge — just pass the word along to the Federation, and in the case of a real emergency, call 911. Don’t hesitate if you have to call 911.”
Of the two incidents reported by the Chronicle last week, only the June 13 incident was reported to police at the time it occurred, according to Maurice Matthews II, Pittsburgh Police assistant public information officer.
Matthews said police are looking into both the June 6 and 13 attacks, and reiterated the importance of reporting events as they occur.
“People should always report what’s going on,” he said. “One of these wasn’t reported — we only learned of it by word of mouth.”
He said that because of the recent assaults, police were “being more vigilant and giving the area an extra look through.”
There has been a surge in anti-Jewish hate nationwide since the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, according to a May 20 statement by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
“We are tracking acts of harassment, vandalism and violence as well as a torrent of online abuse,” he said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.