Ex-Tree of Life rabbi: ‘I knew where everybody would be’

Rabbi Chuck Diamond remembers last October’s Pittsburgh shooting during a talk at Temple Emanuel. Photo by Samantha Cooper

Pittsburgh Rabbi Chuck Diamond remembers where he was on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018.

It was around 10 when his phone began to ring at home.

“I usually don’t answer the phone on Shabbat but I saw who it was. It was a congregant of mine and I answered the phone. He said, ‘Did you hear what’s going on at the Tree?’”

The man meant the Tree of Life Synagogue, where Diamond is the former rabbi, and where a gunman had just killed 11 people.


Diamond described that day to the brotherhood of Temple Emanuel, in Kensington, on Feb. 3.

Diamond is a childhood friend of Monte Mallin, the brotherhood’s president. “When we turned on the news, we often saw a handful of individuals talking on behalf of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community,” Mallin told the group. “Rabbi Diamond was one of those individuals.”

Diamond was a rabbi at Tree of Life congregation for 12 years and said he knew all of the victims.

“I knew where everybody would be. I could picture it. At that time in the morning, only the older people who would come every week [were there.],” he said.

And then he described what he thought happened to each of the victims.

“So [the gunman] comes in and there were [the Rosenthal brothers]. Cecil and his brother, David, were [intellectually] challenged. I have a sense [Cecil] was [on his bench] when the gunman walked in. And I think Cecil was the first one to be shot,” he said.

“I feel incumbent to tell you about the 11 victims, because I want to make it personal for you,” Diamond said.
Soon after he saw the news on TV, Diamond headed to Tree of Life.

“I went there because I thought, how could I help? I could help by comforting people.” Diamond became the “voice” of the tragedy. As the former rabbi, he was qualified to act as spokesman, giving the current rabbis time to grieve and
prepare for the funerals.

Once he did one interview, he began getting other calls from all over the world. For a week, he didn’t have a
moment’s rest, he said,“I think one of things [I’ve gained from this whole experience] is, just appreciate the moment and appreciate the people around you,” he told WJW. “I knew that ahead of time and this really sharpened it for me.”

Diamond’s audience included the seventh grade from Temple Emanuel’s religious school. The students are collecting food for the homeless. Diamond commended them.

“The seventh graders are doing this and they’re the future,” he said. “They should appreciate the world around them, especially since they’re bar, bat mitzvah age and they have to do something for the people around them.”

The shock of the shooting became apparent when the congregants discussed gun control and if it could prevent mass killings like the one at Tree of Life.

Michael Karbeling, 65, of Silver Spring, said, “It kind of makes me sick that we have to have police at every synagogue now, all year round. We’re going in the wrong direction as a society. Nobody’s talking about gun control. Nobody’s really talking about prevention.”

To Adam Angel, 35, things were a little different. “I think discussing it as gun control is obscuring the real issue, which is when a white guy walks into a black church and shoots a bunch of people, it’s not about gun control, it’s about racism. This is about anti-Semitism,” he said, “We need to make sure that’s what’s talked about.” n

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  1. Spot on, it’s all in the words we use to explain hideous actions, our silence is our hideous act of not speaking loudly, often and connecting ENOUGH


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