Donations Soar For Tree Of Life, HIAS, In Wake Of Shul Murders

Donations Soar For Tree Of Life, HIAS, In Wake Of Shul Murders

Amy Sara Clark writes about politics and education. A Columbia Journalism School graduate, she's worked at CBS News, The Journal News, The Jersey Journal, Mom365, JTA and Prospect Heights Patch. She comes to journalism from academia where she earned a master's degree in European History with a focus on Vichy France.

HIAS activists at a “Our People Were Refugees Too” rally in 2017.
Jeff Malet/HIAS
HIAS activists at a “Our People Were Refugees Too” rally in 2017. Jeff Malet/HIAS

As people across the country struggle to come to terms with what happened last Shabbat morning in Pittsburgh, many have taken to fundraising — to help the Tree of Life Congregation and a Jewish refugee resettlement group the shooter raged against just before his rampage.

HIAS was founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms. Today it assists refugees from countries around the globe, including, over the past few years, Syria.

One week before Robert Bowers walked into the synagogue on Oct. 27, and began shooting, the congregation took part in a national HIAS event: a “Refugee Shabbat.” The day of his killing spree, during which Bowers murdered 11 and injured 6, Bowers wrote on a social media site that: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.”

In the three days since, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for the nonprofit. “We’re tremendously grateful,” said Miriam Feffer, HIAS’ vice president of development. While she declined to say how much money has been donated since the murders, the New York Daily News tallies that as of Monday night, more than $250,000 had been donated on Facebook, through more than 200 fundraising campaigns.

People stand in front of a memorial on October 28, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27. – A man suspected of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue during a baby-naming ceremony and gunning down 11 people has been charged with murder, in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history. The suspect — identified as a 46-year-old Robert Bowers — reportedly yelled “All Jews must die” as he sprayed bullets into the Tree of Life synagogue during Sabbath services on Saturday before exchanging fire with police, in an attack that also wounded six people. Getty Images

HIAS has also gained manpower. “We have received a ton of inquiries” from would-be volunteers, including attorneys offering pro-bono work, Feffer said. “We are still reeling from the shock of it.”

Others are raising funds for the synagogue. Two Muslim-American nonprofits, CelebrateMercy and MPower Change, had raised nearly $200,000 for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting by Tuesday afternoon on LaunchGood, a Muslim-focused crowdfunding site.

“We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action,” the groups said on its crowdfunding page.

Shay Khatiri, a 29-year-old graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies had raised $873,232 on Tuesday afternoon. According to WJLA-TV, Khatiri is a political refugee from Iran who said he has been helped by the Jewish community.

Outside the Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial people hug as they arrive for a vigil for the victims of the shooting rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue the previous day. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Pittsburgh’s sports teams have also stepped up. The Pittsburgh Penguins held a blood drive and pledged $25,000 each to the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh and the city’s Department of Public Safety. It also announced it would collect donations at its next game and had created “a special jersey patch featuring the Penguins logo intertwined with the Star of David” to “honor the Tree of Life shooting victims.” Game jerseys autographed by the players who wore them will be auctioned off as part of the fundraising.

The Pittsburgh Steelers held a moment of silence on Sunday in honor of the victims of the shooting prior to the start of its game against the Cleveland Browns. It also edited its logo to include a Star of David, next to the words, “Stronger Than Hate.”

The image was held on posters by fans during the game, and has been adopted widely on social media. Fans also held signs reading Shalom under a Star of David, and “Pittsburgh Strong.”

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