#CallItWhatItIs: An open letter from Jewish university students in Pittsburgh

Call it what it is — an act of anti-Semitic terrorism.

On this day, Saturday, Oct. 27, a terrorist targeted the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, our Pittsburgh community. On this day, the holiest day of our week, our day of rest, Jewish people gather to observe Shabbat in synagogue. On this day, nearly 80 years from Kristallnacht.

We are heartbroken.

We are angry.

We are scared.

Nevertheless, we are not surprised.

Before all else, know the names of those murdered:

A married couple, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, 84 and 86.

Two brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54.

Rose Mallinger, 97.

Joyce Fienberg, 75.  

Richard Gottfried, 65.

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66.

Daniel Stein, 71.

Melvin Wax, 87.

Irving Younger, 69.

Learn their stories.

Anti-Semitism is rampant yet dismissed. In the year between 2016 and 2017, the Anti-Defamation League reported a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents. Even in the days following Oct. 27, anti-Semitism continues to intensify on the internet, in the streets and at schools.  As a minority group, our acceptance in American society has always been conditional. Our trauma, borne from millennia of persecution, has been carved into the Jewish existence worldwide and passes l’dor v’dor — from generation to generation.

Anti-Semitism invalidates our ideas, practices, history and being. It cuts deep, manifesting as coerced assimilation, graffiti, hate speech, violence and mass murder. It can come from a friend, a peer, a university, an institution — or from a government, an entire society. It can dwell in words, microaggressions and damaging stereotypes. This is not the first time we’ve experienced the pain of anti-Semitism. We are not surprised.


Recognize that this anti-Semitic terrorist was driven by white nationalism, the same force behind so many terror attacks. Just days before tragedy struck Pittsburgh, a white nationalist murdered two people at a grocery store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. In June 2016, a homophobic terrorist murdered 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In June of 2015, a white nationalist murdered nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. These are only a few of the terrorist attacks against our black, brown, Muslim, Native American, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized siblings. Condemn anti-Semitism, white nationalism and white supremacy in all its forms.


This is anti-Semitic terrorism.

Show support. Show solidarity. Show that where there is light, hate will not win. We must unequivocally denounce this act of anti-Semitic terror. Create time and space for our grief. We all mourn in different ways. Some of us may want help with food, some may want a hand to hold, some may want space. Some may just want to be told they are in your thoughts. Do not invalidate our suffering. Do not take advantage of our pain.

Be thoughtful in your actions. Attend vigils, stand with us, educate yourself and others, donate blood if you can and give financial support if you are able. Understand that our community may not be prepared to accommodate volunteer opportunities immediately. In the direct aftermath, financial contribution is the best way to support Squirrel Hill’s needs. Know that donating to major American relief organizations may not directly benefit the community. Instead, donate to victims themselves and to the synagogue at these sites:

Please educate yourself and others by reading about anti-Semitism and Jewish mourning. We recommend sharing articles that address talking to children, helping a friend who is grieving and understanding anti-Semitism. Be sure to read Pittsburgh’s Jewish Arts and Literature Magazine, 70 Faces Magazine, for more insight into students’ responses following this tragedy.

Most importantly, #CallItWhatItIs — terrorism.

The Pittsburgh and Jewish communities are hurting. But we are strong. In Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill, and in Judaism, we honor resilience and connection — we are the City of Bridges after all. We will rebuild, embodying the power of endurance. We will hold fast to the roots of our collective tree, stretching far and wide. Together, we will heal. As it is written, “She is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and whoever holds on to her is happy” (Proverbs 3:18).

Signed with sorrow and hope,

Jewish College Students of Pittsburgh, including but not limited to:

70 Faces Magazine

Jews of many cultures (Sefardi, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi)

Jews of color

Jews of many genders

Jews of interfaith and interracial families

Jews in the LGBTQ+ community

Jews of many religious and nonreligious backgrounds (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, atheist, secular and unaffiliated)