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'New York Times' Opinion Writer On Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting


Saturday's mass shooting at a synagogue took place in a Pittsburgh neighborhood called Squirrel Hill. Bari Weiss, opinion writer for The New York Times, grew up there and is in Pittsburgh. Good morning.

BARI WEISS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you think about when it became clear that this happened in your neighborhood?

WEISS: I was shocked on the one hand. On the other hand, it's a dark reality that I don't know a Jew in America that hasn't had this as a kind of waking nightmare - that something like this would be possible. It's shocking when you see your own street, you know, with people from the FBI and SWAT teams all over it. And it's shocking - you know, this was the synagogue where I became a bat mitzvah in 1997. So the personal parts were shocking, but the fact that it happened, sadly, wasn't to me.

INSKEEP: Meaning that people were, in some way, mentally prepared - maybe not for exactly this but something like this.

WEISS: Well, look. Anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred in the world. It's not just a hatred. It's not just a normal prejudice. It's a kind of conspiracy theory. It says that there is a secret hand controlling the world, and that secret hand is the Jew. And any of us who've been paying attention to the current state of our political discourse knows the conspiracy thinking is having a kind of moment, and it's not surprising to me that that led to this kind of violence.

INSKEEP: The social media posts associated with the suspect suggest that he was interested in conspiracy theories linking Jews to refugees. He was interested in the caravan that President Trump has blown up into a major national news story. I'd just like to ask you about your neighborhood and this synagogue in particular. What was the attitude that people there had toward refugees?

WEISS: Well, that's the thing. The Jewish connection to the refugee is not a conspiracy. That's something that we're very, very proud of. The organization that Robert Bowers was constantly calling out is an organization called HIAS, which brought people, including Sergey Brin, to this country. It started in the 1880s to bring Jews who were fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Now they help Jews and non-Jews all over the world fleeing persecution. I met a man in Arizona on Sunday, a Jew from Cairo who was helped out of Egypt following the 1967 war. This synagogue exemplified those values. It participated in something called Refugee Shabbat. The previous Saturday, it was one of the participating synagogues nationally. And the concept, you know, as in all Jewish synagogues that reflect the most sacred of Jewish values, is the value of hachnasat orchim, of welcoming the stranger and especially of welcoming the weakest in our community, which - there's no weaker category in our society than the refugee. And we're really, really proud of that.

INSKEEP: Do you see any sign of that attitude changing after this attack?

WEISS: Absolutely not - the opposite. This hateful anti-Semite came to kill Jews and sow terror in our community. And he did kill Jews and, among them, some of the loveliest, most stalwart people in our community. But what he's also done is brought incredible unity. He's exposed the values of our Jewish community and, frankly, of Pittsburgh to the world. And, you know, I predict that Jews, not only in Pittsburgh but all over this country, are going to be flooding synagogues this coming Shabbat.

INSKEEP: Ms. Weiss, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

WEISS: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Bari Weiss is an opinion writer for The New York Times, and she is in Pittsburgh this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.