Houston's Jewish community on alert after attack in Pittsburgh synagogue

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The attack in Pittsburgh has touched people around the country and here in Houston. That includes a Holocaust survivor who says she never thought she'd see the day when Jews would be killed for their religion while at a synagogue in the United States.

Ruth Steinfield was 7 years old when she was sent to a concentration camp. She and her sister were then taken to France and hidden, but her parents were killed. At 13 years old, she immigrated to the United States. She is deeply saddened by what happened in Pittsburgh.

"The rhetoric that's been on reminds me of Hitler denouncing the Jews and telling everybody the Jews were no good," she told Eyewitness News.

Now in her mid-80s, she has spent much of her life giving talks about her experiences and teaching tolerance and forgiveness. Steinfeld worries about what she sees happening now.

"I have great-grandchildren, six of them," she said. "I want them to live in peace. I don't want them to have to deal with what I dealt with as a child."

With reports that anti-semitism rose 57 percent last year in the United States, what happened in Pittsburgh this past weekend, the attack on a synagogue during service Saturday morning, reminds Jews everywhere that rhetoric can turn into violence.

"Jews need to be concerned that they might be targeted. Jewish institutions need to be concerned that they might be targeted," said Dena Marks with the Southwest Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.

"I like to say that anti-semitism is the canary in the coal mine of hate. Because, generally, when there is more anti-semitism, generally there's more hatred toward all sorts of groups," she said.

Marvin D. Nathan is the national chair for the ADL. He said what happened in Pittsburgh brings into the light the hatred the ADL so often finds in the dark.

"It doesn't take much to ignite it," he said. "Sometimes simple words, sometimes some type of provocation by an act. But once it's ignited, it's very hard to manage and deal with it properly."

Rabbi Barry Gelman of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston was in services himself on Saturday when he learned about what happened: That Jews were targeted for nothing more than their faith. Gelman said they also find comfort in their community and in their faith. There is always armed security at his synagogue. It has been that way for years.

But now, in light of Pittsburgh, his congregation like so many others will be reevaluating what they do to keep members safe while inviting anyone to pray with them.

"Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Jews have been, that we have been targeted and it's unlikely to be the last time that we will be targeted," said Rabbi Gelman. "And yet we manage to overcome and to move forward and we have to keep that in perspective and understand that if we stick together and support each other that we'll be able to overcome this as well."

Ruth Steinfeld worries as she watches the reports from Pittsburgh, about the future for Jews and non-Jews alike.

"You wonder, 'Who's next?'" she said.

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