Phoenix Jewish community focuses on safety, solidarity after Pittsburgh massacre

A mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 people dead and several others injured. (Photo by CNN)

PHOENIX – Levi Levertov was still trying to make sense of Saturday’s shooting inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, ending with 11 people dead.

On Monday, Levertov, a rabbi at the Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Phoenix, said his synagogue will review what changes can be made to ensure safety to the congregation, but he hopes the changes will be unrecognizable to the members.

Rabbi Levi Levertov said the Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Phoenix will review how to continue protecting its members from hate and anti-Semitism. (Photo by SuElen Rivera/Cronkite News)

“You don’t want to walk into any house of worship, for sure for us as a synagogue, where you feel you’re in some military building,” Levertov continued. “We are figuring out ways to make sure our building is more welcoming but remains very secure.”

During the observance of Shabbat, access to cellular devices is restricted from sundown on Friday until an hour after sundown on Saturday, with the exception of emergencies. Levertov said many members at the Chabad-Lubavitch community weren’t aware of the shooting until later Saturday evening, when police officers arrived at the center.

Carlos Galindo-Elvira is the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in Phoenix, which works to combat anti-Semitism and hate. (Photo provided by the Anti-Defamation League)

Carlos Galindo-Elvira, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in Phoenix, said although staff members are shocked by such anti-Semitic violence, they are banding together now stronger than ever to stand up against it.

“This moment is where we need to come together and show there is no place for hate,” said Galindo-Elvira, whose immediate response to the shooting included contacting local police.

“One of the first things we did was reach out to local law enforcement to make sure local Jewish synagogues were protected and safe,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League is a nonprofit organization that works with the Jewish community to fight anti-Semitism.

Despite the tragedy in Pittsburgh, ADL representatives said they will continue to shine light on extremists and stand up for the vulnerable and marginalized in the community, Galindo-Elvira said.

Students, including Avi Goodman, in Phoenix also reacted to the shooting, with the Jewish college fraternity at Arizona State University, Alpha Epsilon Pi, organizing a vigil for Monday evening to help those who are struggling to process the massacre.

“As far as I have seen, that’s probably the most infamous event that has occurred to Jewish people,” Goodman continued. “It won’t be forgotten anytime soon.”

Avi Goodman, president of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi at ASU, heard of the Pittsburgh shooting on Saturday morning and organized the community vigil for Monday evening. (Photo by SuElen Rivera/Cronkite News)

Goodman believes these acts of violence start from certain groups or people misunderstanding the Jewish community.

“You can’t appreciate something if you don’t understand it,” he said. “There is too much hate in this world.”

At the Chabad-Lubavitch Center, Levertov said Saturday’s events inside the Tree of Life Center should not deter people from attending synagogue or church but rather stand up – and show up.

Reviewing what procedures can be made to protect the local communities is “an ongoing conversation and I know it’s with every church. Regardless of where it (shootings) happens, it becomes a conversation for everyone else,” Levertov said.

Robert Bowers, 46, was arrested Saturday in connection with the shooting. He appeared Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh, where he faces 29 criminal charges. Authorities say he posted multiple anti-Semitic remarks on his social media feeds, including one on the day of the attack.

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