The Jewish community in central Indiana was on high alert after a gunman opened fire inside a synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday, killing 11 people.
The tragedy was also a terrifying one for an Indianapolis man whose family belongs to the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.
The 20-minute attack at Tree of Life congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood left at least six others wounded, including four police officers who dashed to the scene, authorities said.
In light of the attack in Pittsburgh, there will be extra security at synagogues in Indianapolis, Carmel and others across the state to ensure the safety of the local Jewish community.
For Indianapolis resident Matt Tobe, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Saturday’s shooting hit too close to home.
“I started panicking,” said Tobe. “I immediately ran out of the meeting I was in and called my mom.”
Tobe spoke to News 8 via phone Saturday from Chicago as he made his way back to Indianapolis.
Tobe described the early moments after the shooting happened as terrifying, as he realized his family could have been in danger.
“At first, obviously my reaction was more just trying to make sure my family was OK,” said Tobe. “Then from there, that went immediately into tears and feeling horrible for the community and for everyone I love there.”
Luckily, Tobe’s mother, aunt and uncle were not inside the synagogue at the time of the shooting.
“It’s just stomach-turning and it makes me sick,” said Tobe.
Just hours after the attack, beefed-up security could be seen at local synagogues.
“We feel very vulnerable here on Meridian,” said senior Rabbi Brett Krichiver with the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. “We’re the most visible Jewish presence in the state and in the city.”
Krichiver said that more than ever, safety is top of mind.
“For most houses of worship, when there is a service going on, the doors are open. We are inclusive, we try to welcome people in,” said Krichiver. “Unfortunately, this type of event makes us think twice about that policy. For me, it’s just sadness and we try to teach our children not to hate. Unfortunately, we are living through this very polarized time in our country, and leadership at the top doesn’t seem to be willing to do much about it.”
For Tobe, who visited Auschwitz last week, Saturday’s shooting was an act of hate he thought he’d never see again.
“We just last week said the words ‘never again,’ which is what you say when you’re talking about the Holocaust,” said Tobe. “So, to have just last week said that standing in Auschwitz and then to come back a week to the day later, and see an act like this take place on our soil, it breaks my heart. There’s a lot of hatred in this country right now. I’m not quite sure why, or what can be done about it, but I think we’ve got to figure that out and we’ve got to figure how we can curb some of that.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council released a statement condemning the attack:
The Indianapolis JCRC, Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, and the entire central Indiana Jewish Community is shocked and appalled to learn of the fatal shooting unfolding in a Pittsburgh synagogue… We are communicating closely with Indianapolis and Carmel Police to make sure our local agencies and synagogues have increased protection.
Later Saturday night, Lindsey Mintz, the Indianapolis JCRC executive director, released this statement:
The attack on Squirrel Hills is a hate crime. The JCRC condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific attack on Jewish-Americans that happened today inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. As the Anti-Defamation League and FBI have reported consistently over the past several years, antisemitic acts and expressions are currently at an all-time high, and increasing fastest in the Midwest. The JCRC tracks antisemitic incidents in Indiana, and is witnessing up close how antisemitism has been given room to infect all layers of our society.