A chain-link fence shrouded with a black tarp surrounds the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh these days.
The Jewish community in the city’s East Side neighborhood of Squirrel Hill has not yet decided the fate of the building in the wake of the Oct. 27 shooting in which a gunman opened fire as Shabbat services were about to begin, killing 11 worshippers.
Many of the survivors—members of three independent Jewish congregations that met in the synagogue—are still coming to terms with the anti-Semitic rampage, considered the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
But the leader of one of those congregations has already formed an opinion about what he knows will transpire in the coming weeks: a decision by federal prosecutors about whether to seek the death penalty in the case. And he wants to prevent it.
To that end, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman and his wife, Beth Kissileff, recently penned letters to Attorney General William Barr urging him not to seek the death penalty for Robert Bowers, the alleged gunman.
“We are still attending to our wounds, both physical and emotional, and I don’t want to see them opened anymore,” wrote Perlman, 55, rabbi of New Light Congregation. “A drawn out and difficult death penalty trial would be a disaster, with witnesses and attorneys dredging up horrifying drama and giving this killer the media attention he does not deserve.”
Bowers pleaded not guilty to a 63-count indictment in U.S. District Court, but one of his lawyers has suggested Barr might offer to forgo a trial in return for a guilty plea if prosecutors drop the death penalty they are now weighing and agree to a sentence of life without parole. On Monday (Aug. 12), prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed to a 120-day extension in the case.
To Perlman, a lengthy trial in which the prosecution would highlight Bowers’ documented stream of anti-Jewish invective and conspiracy theories would be too much to bear.
The alleged shooter’s social media activity is rife with tirades against Jews. One post reportedly showed a doctored image of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp, in which the motto above the gate reads: “Lies Make Money.”
Another post said: “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”
Perlman argues the community is better off putting this painful episode behind it.
“Some people think I’m doing it because I’m opposed to the death penalty,” he said in a phone interview with Religion News Service. “I am opposed to the death penalty, but in this case, it’s very personal. I’m looking out for the welfare of my community. I don’t want to see them re-traumatized.”
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SOURCE: Charisma News