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Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community Shaken by Deadly Shooting Spree

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Jewish facilities in Pittsburgh are increasing security measures following last week’s shooting rampage that killed five minorities, including one Jewish woman.

Security guards and city police officers patrolled the city’s JCC building in Squirrel Hill, which was also requiring members to show ID cards before entering, while the suburban Jewish Community Center of the South Hills temporarily went into a lockdown after the shooting occurred last Friday.

Neal Scheindlin, the rabbi at Beth El Congregation of Short Hills, one of two synagogues that was fired upon in the rampage, said the synagogue will buy a new security system.

The increased measures came as residents of the Pittsburgh area began confronting the second apparent hate crime in their community in two months.

In March, a black man allegedly killed three whites in the working-class suburb of Wilkinsburg.

Richard Scott Baumhammers, 34, allegedly began his spree by killing Anita Gordon, a Jewish woman who was one of his next door neighbors and a family friend.

Police have charged Baumhammers with one of the murders and he was awaiting arraignment Monday for the others. State and federal authorities are determining whether he should face hate crimes charges.

The Jewish victim, Gordon, a 63-year-old married mother of three daughters, was known for her work as a volunteer at Beth El Congregation.

“Many members talked of her as if she were a second mother,” said Scheindlin.

Three of those also killed in the spree were immigrants — an Indian man, Anil Thakur, at a grocery and two Asian men, Thao Pham and Ji-Ye Sun, at a Chinese restaurant.

An African American man, Garry Lee, was shot and killed at a karate school.

Another Indian man shot in the rampage, Sandip Patel, remained in critical condition Sunday in a Pittsburgh hospital.

Baumhammers also allegedly shot through the windows of two suburban Pittsburgh synagogues and spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti inside Beth El.

Baumhammers, who lived with his parents in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, is a lawyer who studied immigration law.

In a search of his house, police found what has been described as a manifesto of his Free Market Party, which advocates the rights of European Americans and denounces immigration from the Third World.

He also created a Web site for the party he founded with links to other “white- rights groups.” The site has since been closed down.

Baumhammers, who is of Latvian descent, apparently became more interested in his heritage during the past few years. He made several trips to Europe.

During this time, Baumhammers became convinced that he had been poisoned, according to a woman who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she had been hospitalized with him. He has spent at least one stint in a psychiatric hospital, and has been treated since 1993 for an unspecified mental disorder, according to his lawyer, Lee Rothman.

The combination of an apparently deranged individual who had easy access to a racist, anti-Semitic ideology is an “explosive mix,” said Joel Ratner, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Ohio/Kentucky/Allegheny.

“Gun safety laws are crucial,” he said, adding that the ADL is also pressing for passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is currently stalled in Congress.

Hate crimes were down by 4 percent in the United States last year, to 1,547 incidents, according to a recent report published by the Anti-Defamation League. But they were up, from 70 to 82, in Pennsylvania.

“Hate has been rearing its head in western Pennsylvania all too frequently, he said. Acts like these are “not something that comes out of the blue.”

But for Scheindlin, who was the Jewish victim’s rabbi and whose synagogue’s windows were shattered, last Friday’s events certainly felt that way.

He is taking some solace in the support his suburban congregation has received from residents of the area — Jews and non-Jews.

Close to 300 people attended Friday night services — and about 400 on Saturday morning. The attendees at the service expressed a mixture of fear and anger, he said.

“I could feel the emotion coming toward me,” he said.

Scheindlin, who says he has received widespread support from Christian clergy, is also working on several interfaith efforts, including a healing service and a vigil at the Chinese restaurant where two of the victims were killed.

“The thing that I’ve been stressing is the way that we care for each other as a community and draw strength from each other,” he said.

“This is how God acts in this world — through acts of chesed, of lovingkindness, that people can offer to each other.”

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