Hate Against One is Hate Against All: Tree of Life Shooting

By Brian A. Hoffman —

What happens somewhere can impact everywhere. Like a boulder crashing into the ocean, a large splash has ripples visible on the surface after the boulder fades into the darkness.

In life, we often encounter periods of darkness and despair when we need the supporting arm of a brother. The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on the morning of October 27 was an example of this type of darkness and despair, with a tremendous impact on the Brotherhood of Man. An event shocking so many, especially those in Pittsburgh and those with family and friends in Pittsburgh. In the weeks and months since the shooting, people galvanized and rallied around Pittsburgh. “Stronger Than Hate” designs using the Steelers logo were everywhere on social media, and this “small, big city” as ZBT Past International President Kenneth L. Simon, Beta Phi (Pittsburgh) 1975 put it, had the attention of the world.

The transition from shock and sadness to support and positive action demonstrated to Simon that “people still have empathy out there, and are able to think of others,” even when they do not directly identify with the population or identity of those in pain. Since the shooting, people across religious ideologies are “working together, bringing people together regardless of their faith, because hate will not win out; it’s all about people caring about other people,” as Simon said. This collaboration and showing of communal support is absolutely necessary in communities worldwide to snuff out hate, bigotry and intolerance, helping people remember how much more they have in common than ways in which they differ.

ZBT prides itself on being an inclusive Jewish fraternity, and values the diversity of its brotherhood while remaining rooted in Jewish values and involved in the Jewish community. In good times and bad, our chapters often are among the faces of Jewish student life, even if brothers in these chapters do not all identify with the Jewish faith. In the aftermath of the shooting, our Beta Phi Chapter brothers at the University of Pittsburgh stood tall with other members of the University and community to rally fundraising and educational efforts for the victims, survivors, synagogue and more. These brothers participated in the community vigil and were ever present in campus discussions about impact and follow-up efforts. These brothers demonstrated the community’s commitment, as Pittsburgh native Brother Matthew I. Tobe, Beta Alpha Theta (Colorado) 2006 said, “to focus on continuing to create whatever good we can out of an amazing and horrible tragedy. The city has grown closer together and has an amazing bond” around what happened.

Outside Pittsburgh, there were many other chapters who reached out to the Fraternity seeking ways to support the response to this horrible incident, recognizing the shooting was an isolated event but also that, if it happened in Pittsburgh, it could happen in their city and their community next. Epsilon Gamma (Albany), Gamma (NYU), Miami (Alpha Omega), Alpha Psi (Penn State) and Alpha Rho (UCLA) were among the first to take action and show solidarity with the Pittsburgh community through local fundraising efforts, arranging campus and chapter speakers, banners outside houses, and more. Other chapters throughout our brotherhood demonstrated their own solidarity over social media, identifying ways to speak up and act in the face of violence. These brothers, none of which are from the Pittsburgh area, demonstrated a strong commitment to the values of ZBT, standing up for others while being mindful of activity impacting the Jewish community. “It’s your fellow man, your fellow brother. It’s about being a caring person. It’s not about you, it’s about other people, the bigger picture,” Simon added.

In the face of tragedy and sadness, we look to each other for support and guidance. Our ritual teaches us the importance of finding ways to give your hand to a brother who may need your help. The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue was a terrible tragedy, yet out of it, the community grew stronger and our brothers throughout ZBT acted in a way in which our predecessors would be proud. Hate will not win, and our brothers will continue to learn, educate and advocate to ensure a safer world for years to come. Our thoughts remain with the victims of this tragedy, as our hope for a brighter future shines radiantly.