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OPEN LETTER

“I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish”: Reflections from the Pittsburgh shooter’s nurse

People gather outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
“I chose to show him empathy,” Mahler said.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

In the days following last weekend’s shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the media discovered that some of the staff at the hospital where the suspected shooter was treated were Jewish. Robert Bowers, who stands accused of murdering 11 people in the rampage, was cared for by one nurse who was the son of a rabbi, said Jeffrey Cohen, top administrator at Allegheny General Hospital in an interview with CNN.

“Isn’t it ironic that somebody who’s yelling in the ambulance and the hospital, ‘I want to kill all the Jews,’ is taken care of by a Jewish nurse, and there’s a Jewish hospital president that comes in to check on him afterwards,” he mused.

Yesterday (Nov. 3), Ari Mahler, that nurse, decided to speak for himself, as he explained in a public post on Facebook that began, “I am The Jewish Nurse.”

“Yes, that Jewish Nurse,” continues Mahler, the son of a rabbi. “The same one that people are talking about in the Pittsburgh shooting that left 11 dead. The trauma nurse in the ER that cared for Robert Bowers who yelled, ‘Death to all Jews,’ as he was wheeled into the hospital. The Jewish nurse who ran into a room to save his life.”

Mahler describes how odd it is for him to hear people call him the Jewish something and not mean it in a derogatory sense. “I experienced anti-Semitism a lot as a kid,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to say if it was always a product of genuine hatred, or if kids with their own problems found a reason to single me out from others.” Other children in his school left drawings of gas chambers on his desk and drew swastikas on his locker.

Anti-semitism followed him into adulthood, too. “As an adult, deflecting my religion by saying ‘I’m not that religious’ makes it easier for people to accept I’m Jewish—especially when I tell them my father is a rabbi,” he writes.

So he was not surprised by the attack at the Tree of Life, and he assumes another mass shooting will occur. “My heart yearns for change, but today’s climate doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility,” he says.

When he looked into Bowers’ eyes, he writes, he saw confusion, not evil.

“I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?”

“Love. That’s why I did it,” he writes near the end of his post. “Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope.”

Love, he wrote, “is the only message.”

Read the rest of his Facebook letter  below:

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