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Israeli Psychotrauma Team Heads to Pittsburgh to Help Community Recover in Wake of Massacre

A psychotrauma team from the Israeli rescue organization, United Hatzalah, traveled to Pittsburgh to help the community deal with the psychological effects of Saturday’s synagogue massacre that claimed eleven lives, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

The team, which is working with both Israel’s Diaspora Ministry and Pittsburgh’s Jewish Federation, will assist community members and victims of the shooting.

“We are heading to Pittsburgh in order to treat those who witnessed the attack and anyone else from the community who feels the need for our assistance,” Miriam Ballin, director of United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, said. “We will be utilizing techniques and tools that we have developed here in Israel and have proven to be highly successful in assisting those who have suffered from similar incidents here.”

In a call with The Israel Project, Ballin described landing in the United States with her team of five people sitting next to an elderly couple returning to Pittsburgh from Israel. The couple told her that they had turned off their phones because they knew they had friends among those killed, making the trip “emotional.”

On Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, a gunman identified as Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue, in the largely Jewish Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, and killed eleven worshipers there. During the rampage, Bowers expressed his hatred of Jews and later told police that “all Jews must die.” Bowers also expressed anti-Semitic views on social media accounts.

2,500 people attended a memorial service for the eleven victims, including a couple who had been married for 60 years, two brothers and a Holocaust survivor, at University of Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Hall on Sunday night. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto called the massacre, “the darkest hour in our city’s history.”

Bowers has been charged with 29 federal criminal crimes, including violating civil rights laws.

Israeli leaders across the spectrum expressed shock at the killings.

“It is very difficult to exaggerate the horror of the murder of Jews who had gathered in a synagogue on Shabbat and were murdered just because they were Jews. Israel stands at the forefront with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, with all Jewish communities in the US and with the American people. We stand together, at the forefront, against anti-Semitism and displays of such barbarity,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

President Reuven Rivlin released a statement saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the events in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We are thinking of the families of those who were murdered and praying for the quick recovery of those who were injured.”

Avi Gabbay, the chairman of the opposition Zionist Union party tweeted, “A man who opens fire at a synagogue isn’t attacking Reform or Conservative or Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Jews. He is attacking all Jews. The pain is felt by all of us. Our hearts are w/the Jewish community of Pittsburgh & the families of those killed in this awful act of terror.”

Isaac Herzog, the newly-installed chairman of the Jewish Agency, called Greater Pittsburgh Federation CEO Jeff Finkelstein offering the community assistance and said that he’d visit Pittsburgh, later this week when he visits the United States.

Tel Aviv’s City Hall lit up in the colors of the U.S. flag to express solidarity in the wake of the deadly hate crime.

Federal flags outside all federal buildings were flown at half-staff in recognition of the eleven victims. Several states also ordered their flags to be flown at half-staff.

[Photo: CBS News / YouTube ]