By Adam Reinherz and Toby Tabachnick
Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, spiritual leader of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, was on the bimah leading Shabbat services when Robert Bowers opened fire on his congregation. Myers survived the attack, but recognized, “I am not OK.”
“I couldn’t get all of my congregants out safely,” he said.
Seven members of TOL*OLS were murdered that day, and now Myers is consumed with planning their funerals.
While he is undoubtedly suffering from personal trauma, his focus right now is to help others.
“To pastor my congregation and the community at large for whatever their needs, be they mourners, the injured, just ordinary congregants who are stunned and shocked by the events and just need help to get through this crisis,” Myers said. “So, I am there for them 24/7.”
While his family and his congregation continue to check in to see how he is doing, Myers said he has had to “compartmentalize it to the extent that I will take care of myself as needed, but there are bigger needs right now than the needs of one. To quote Mr. Spock in Star Trek II or III, ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’”
Although the situation is “difficult,” said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, spiritual leader of New Light Congregation, which shares space in the TOL*OLS building, “we’ll heal from this, we won’t be broken.”
While Perlman will be spending the coming days comforting mourners, he will be looking to his own support system for personal consolation, he said.
“My wife and my good friends and my daughter,” Perlman said. “My youngest daughter is living at home. She’s just terrific. My nephew is in town, he’s visiting for a year, and my mother, the matriarch.”
Rabbi Alvin Berkun, rabbi emeritus of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, is mourning not only the loss of lives, but also the destruction of the chapel in which he has worshipped for decades.
“I just learned two minutes ago that the chapel which was probably one of the most gorgeous worship places I’ve ever seen has been destroyed by hundreds of bullets and will never be the same,” Berkun said. “And it’s painful. I spent 25 years of my life as rabbi of that congregation, and of course these people who died I know every one of them and they were all extraordinary remarkable people and it just breaks my heart.
“We are going to have a tough week,” he continued, “but in Judaism, as you know, we go from shiva to shloshim to a year’s anniversary, and we just have to do that.”
The Jewish community will need to be “vigilant,” Berkun said. “I think the days of bringing in police two days a year [on the High Holidays] is no longer. I think we have to follow the Israel model and any time that there’s a gathering of any size of any place, we have to have security there. It’s a new America.”
Berkun recalled living in Israel several years ago when that country began to ramp up its security.
“It was jarring, it was very tough, Israel in the late ’60s,” Berkun said. “But I think that’s where we are now in America. They really do have to take precautions. I am certainly in no way a gun advocate, but I also feel that security is critical.”
Berkun personally knew each of the 11 victims, and said he sees his role now as a “comforter.”
“I’m emeritus, which means I’m out of the picture, so I’m not going to intrude myself, but I certainly want to be menachem avel. I certainly want to be a comforter of the suffering and do whatever I need to do or do whatever they want me to do.”
Adam Reinherz and Toby Tabachnick are staff writers with the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.