Synagogue's Former Rabbi On Pittsburgh's Jewish Community
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
At least 11 people were killed and six injured - including four police officers - after a gunman opened fire during a service at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Saturday morning. We just heard a press conference where the names of the deceased were told to us. And we now have with us Rabbi Chuck Diamond. He was one of the synagogue's rabbis until about a year ago. And he's still a member of the community and has been spending time with the community in the wake of this terrible, terrible event. Thank you for being with us.
CHUCK DIAMOND: Yeah. Good morning to you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So now we know the names of those who were killed. I mean, do you know who they are? Do they sound familiar to you?
DIAMOND: Yeah. I mean, I had suspected. But hearing the names was quite chilling. And it has shaken me up a bit, I have to say. I knew at least 10 of 11 fairly well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have spent time with these families. Can you tell me what the reaction has been in the wake of this?
DIAMOND: Yeah. I spent a little time yesterday, I have to say, with - before the people really knew. But these were people who hadn't heard about their relatives. And as the day went on, it sort of became clear that the news was not good. These are wonderful people, good souls, who are just coming to synagogue as they usually did. Synagogue was just getting started. And mostly, elderly people who come there are there at the beginning. And you could count on them every week for coming. In a mentioned, the one woman, Rose, who in her 90s, you know, but she was one of the younger ones among us, I have to tell you, in terms of her spirit. And...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rose Mallinger. She's...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Ninety seven years old.
DIAMOND: But just a - Rose was wonderful. And - I mean, and the brothers and all of them, just such wonderful, sweet souls. And it's such a crime that their lives were taken from us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You were not at the synagogue at the time of the shooting. But you did arrive on the scene shortly after, can you...
DIAMOND: I live in the community. I've grown up in Pittsburgh, lived here for most of my life.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did you see?
DIAMOND: Well, there was a corridor. And you really couldn't get close to the synagogue. So basically, I came down. It was right around the block from where I live. And, you know, I wanted to try to comfort people and try to do something, whatever I could do. And I ran into some people who were waiting, again, to hear about their relatives who we knew were there. Also, to see some people who I thought would have been there. Some were delayed by traffic or were sick or whatever it might have been and didn't make it there. And it was just, you know, when it hits home, it's extra hard to deal with.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You spent time, also, yesterday at a grief center. What did you tell people? How do you console people about something like this?
DIAMOND: Yeah. Well, I think just being there for them and letting them know that there are people there for them. You - hugs. And letting people cry on your shoulder and just letting them know, again, you're going to be there for them. And I did have to tell one woman that her brothers - that one of her brothers, who I knew at the time, had been killed, from what I had heard. And I had to tell her that. I mean, it's part of...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That must've been so hard.
DIAMOND: It is very hard. But it's part of, I think, of being a rabbi. But she deserved to know what I knew at that time. As far as her other brother, I didn't know at the - we did just didn't know what the story was. So there was an uncertainty there. There were a lot of people there helping - who came to try to - you know, Pittsburgh, as you've heard, is a wonderful community. It's not only a wonderful Jewish community. It's just a wonderful community. We have wonderful medical facilities. The police do an excellent job. Our politicians are good. And they're good leaders. And the leaders of the Jewish community are strong. And also, the Jewish community gets along together, one with another, even though we believe in maybe different kinds of things. So it's very special. It's been a special place to grow up in. And a special place to raise my kids. I have to say, I'm very grateful to have that opportunity. So that was - our immediate job is to comfort the mourners and to comfort the community and to just be strong as we take each day as it comes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rabbi Chuck Diamond, thank you very much for speaking with us. And our deepest condolences on such a very sad day.
DIAMOND: I appreciate that. And I hope it's for a joyous occasion we can be together in the future.
DIAMOND: OK. Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.