By: Rachel Hess Wachman (Correspondent)
Two hours after Robert Bowers opened fire in the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, he was taken to the Allegheny General Hospital, where Jewish staffers treated his wounds.
Bowers, age 46 of Baldwin Borough, killed eleven worshippers and injured six other people during Shabbat services on Saturday, October 27th, shouting “All Jews must die!” Bowers sustained several gunshot wounds from his stand-off with the police and arrived at the hospital around 11:30 am on Saturday.
“Isn’t it ironic that somebody who is yelling in the ambulance and in the hospital, ‘I want to kill all the Jews,’ is taken care of by a Jewish nurse and there’s a Jewish hospital president that comes in to check on him afterwards?” said the hospital president, Jeffrey Cohen, a member of the Tree of Life synagogue who lives across the street. “We have a very simple mission at [Allegheny General Hospital] and I imagine it’s exactly the same at the other hospitals in the area: We’re here to take care of sick people. We’re not here to judge you.”
Upon arrival at Allegheny General Hospital, Bowers was brought to the trauma ward. According to Cohen, the first three people who treated Bowers at the hospital are Jewish. Law enforcement guarded Bowers, leaving one room empty on either side of him to protect the safety of other patients and staff in the hospital.
“I didn’t say a word to him about my religion,” wrote Ari Mahler on Facebook. She is one of the Jewish nurses who treated Bowers. “I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong.”
Jeffrey Cohen spoke briefly with a “groggy” Bowers on Sunday night. He introduced himself and asked Bowers how he was feeling. “You can’t on one hand say we should talk to each other and then I don’t talk to him,” said Cohen. “So you lead by example, and I’m the leader of the hospital, and I have a powerful voice in the community.”
“My actions are measured with empathy,” wrote Mahler. “And regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher.”
“The emergency room of a hospital is not a courtroom,” said Rabbi Joseph Meszler of Temple Sinai in Sharon. “Nurses and doctors are not qualified to be judges. Therefore, we need to treat any patient equally, and then the court system can determine justice, despite any heart-wrenching feelings we have.” Rabbi Meszler says that Judaism holds a strong belief in justice, and justice means having a fair trial.
Robert Bowers has been indicted on forty-four federal charges. He was initially detained with twenty-nine firearm and hate crime charges. Bowers is also accused of obstructing the freedom to exercise religious beliefs through attempting to kill worshippers.
“He had a mother once, or maybe still does. He was loved by a family,” Cohen told the Tribune-Review. “How do you get from here to there?”
“If it can happen in front of my house in Pittsburgh, where 11 people can be executed, it can happen anywhere,” said Cohen. “I’m struck by the bravery of the police and the determination of the health care community in Pittsburgh to do the right thing and take care of people.”
“The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings,” wrote Mahler. “I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”