Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter Vilified ‘HIAS’ Organization Founded on the Lower East Side

Posted on: October 29th, 2018 at 5:08 am by

Street peddler on the Lower East Side (undated), Photo: NYPL Digital Collection

Saturday morning, a man named Robert Bowers murdered eleven Shabbat worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It’s been widely reported in the aftermath that he vilified the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish organization founded more than one hundred years ago on the Lower East Side.

Not long before Bowers opened fire on the innocent – he was charged with 29 counts – the suspected gunman posted an incendiary note on social network Gab: “hias likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

HIAS was conceived in 1881 in a small Lower East Side storefront with the sole purpose of aiding Jews who fled widespread violence and persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe. The organization maintained a shelter in the neighborhood which provided dormitory space, soup kitchen, and clothing to those immigrants in need. HIAS provided other services to immigrants flowing through Ellis Island, including medical screenings and running a kosher kitchen.

Among its most famous volunteers was Emma Lazarus, whose 1883 sonnet, “The New Colossus,” was inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

For the next hundred years, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society continued to resettle Jews fleeing violence throughout the world. By the 2000s, though, the organization formally expanded their refugee work to assist those of all faiths and origins.

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