SAN ANTONIO – A local rabbi watched the news in from San Antonio after 11 people were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday. He was once a part of that community, and though he's now faw away from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the pain is real.
The images on TV of the distraught, predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill are far from the community Rabbi Samuel Stahl remembers.
He used to lead the congregation at San Antonio's Temple Beth-El, but he grew up in Pennsylvania.
"I went to University of Pittsburgh from '57 to '61. When I went to Tree of Life, it was the golden age of organized religion. They have stayed there for generations. There's a cohesiveness and a feeling of family. It's one large extended family in Squirrel Hill," he said.
Stahl has cousins who live in Squirrel Hill, making it even more excruciating to see a man gun down people in prayer while screaming that he wanted to kill Jews.
"Anti-Semitism is a virus that is always dormant until something kindles it, makes it erupt. But it's always there. Now, it's freely expressed," Stahl said.
The Anti-Defamation League has reported a massive spike in anti-Semitic acts over the past two years.
"I remember a couple years ago, two of the San Antonio synagogues had swastikas painted on their buildings and the whole community rallied behind them," he said.
Stahl treasures San Antonio's strong interfaith community and hopes other cities take notice.
When asked what his call for action would be, he said, "I think that hate speech should be penalized heavily."
He then called on every person of every belief system to take responsibility, to make an effort to denounce hate when it's said or written.
"You don't want to go to the end of your days and feel you haven't done enough," he said.
Stahl said the time for strength, for a unified voice, is now. Too much is at stake.
Stahl has heard the call for more armed security at synagogues. He agrees and said that the large synagogues in San Antonio and around the country have armed security guards.
He said it's expensive, and many small congregations, such as Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, typically can't afford more security.