ON Shabbat morning Yeshiva Bondi graduate Rivkah Botnick was at her uncle’s house in Pittsburgh when word spread that there was a shooting at a synagogue only four blocks from her house.
Botnick’s cousin ran towards the scene, but was turned away by police because there was an active shooter. She subsequently found out that 11 people had been killed.
“It’s very sad, has shaken me up, but has brought everyone together,” Botnick, who moved to Pittsburgh only a year ago with her husband Choni and daughter Chana, told The AJN. She said that attack has forever changed the 40,000-strong Jewish community.
“We are looking over our shoulders when we walk because everyone is scared of copycats,” she added.
“For me, it’s scary to go to shule now, but Choni wants to go more.
“He said it pushes him to pray at shule because we can’t let terrorism win.”
Botnick, whose father is Sydney’s Rabbi Mendel Kastel, said the incident has left her shaken. “I’m scared to bring my daughter up here because Australia feels much safer. Australia has more security at shules and Pittsburgh doesn’t have a CSG (Community Security Group).”
She revealed that sleeping has been difficult since the incident.
“When we started getting messages from people asking if we were alive – that really scared us.
The shooter eventually surrendered to police and was taken to Allegheny General Hospital.
Dr Jeff Cohen, a member of the synagogue and the president of hospital, said he spoke to the shooter in hospital.
“I was very curious about who he was,” Dr Cohen said.
“How he got to where he was … how he could possibly think the 11 people who died in the synagogue were harmful.”
Dr Cohen said it’s ironic that the first people who took care of the shooter were Jewish.
“When he was getting off the ambulance he was continuing to rant about ‘kill all Jews’ but what he didn’t realise was that the nurse who took care of him – her father was a rabbi.
“And the doctor was Jewish. These people put aside whatever beliefs they had because to us he was a patient.”
Closer to home, meanwhile, the impact of the shooting was felt by Asher Ostrin, a senior executive with the Joint Distribution Committee who was visiting Australia on a speaking tour. Ostrin’s brother-in-law, Dr Jerry Rabinowitz, was one of the 11 victims of the attack. As soon as he learnt of the tragedy, Ostrin cancelled his speaking engagements in Sydney and flew to the US to be with his family.
In the wake of the shooting, the Community Security Group (CSG) reiterated that an attack on a Jewish institution in Australia is likely, but it did not raise the alert level following the incident.
The CSG also reminded communal organisations to give staff and volunteers adequate training and awareness.