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Tree of Life rabbi says nation's leaders need to 'tone down rhetoric' in fight against hate

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said he would welcome President Trump if he chose to come to Pittsburgh, while the synagogue's former leader said she felt strongly that he should not come.
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The rabbi who was presiding over services at a Pittsburgh synagogue when 11 people were gunned down said Monday condemning hate isn't enough — those in power need to lead by example.

"There is hate, and it isn’t going away. It just seems to be getting worse," said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers on "Today" while standing outside of Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 stars staked outside honored the slain.

When asked what message he would like to send to President Donald Trump, Myers said, "We turn to the leaders of our country, and we’ve gotta stop hate."

"And it can’t just be to say we need to stop hate. We need to do, we need to act to tone down rhetoric," he said.

"Hate is not welcome here in Pittsburgh. It should not be welcome in our borders at all," he said, adding he would welcome a visit from Trump because "it would be my honor to always meet a president of the United States."

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, right, hugs other rabbis during a vigil to remember the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, at the Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial on Oct. 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Myers was beginning Saturday morning services when shots rang out in the synagogue. He said he initially thought the noise was a coat rack falling, but then instinct kicked in, and he realized he was hearing gunfire.

He was able to aid the people sitting in the front of the sanctuary, but as the shots got closer and louder, he was unable to usher the people in the back to safety.

"I heard him execute my congregants," Myers said.

Myers then called 911, and stayed on the line for "what felt like it was an eternity," he said. The time that elapsed was about 20 minutes, officials have told him. All the while, the gunman was stalking his victims.

The suspected shooter, Robert Bowers, 46, had left a trail of anti-Semitic posts online before entering the synagogue with an assault rifle and at least three handguns Saturday.

The rabbi said he was the first to call police, and wouldn't have even had his phone on him if not for a consult with a security advisor in August.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life synagogue speaks to reporters on Oct. 29, 2018 outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.Brendan SmialowskiKI / AFP - Getty Images

"I normally don't carry it on the Jewish Sabbath, but I learned from him, as he said, 'Rabbi, it's a different world. You need to carry it,'" Myers said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Myers said on "Today" that he's experiencing "anger and disbelief all rolled into one."

"I’m standing at a cemetery and this is a massive mausoleum," Myers said, adding his sanctuary cannot be used in its current condition. "It’s my home and it’s been desecrated."

"The bullet holes are too numerous to count," he said. "But we will rebuild because we’re Tree of Life. We've been here 154 years. And you can cut off some branches, but the tree will continue to grow."

While Myers said he would welcome Trump if the president chose to come to Pittsburgh to pay condolences, the former president of Tree of Life Synagogue said on CNN that she felt strongly that he should not come.

"I do not welcome this president to my city," said Lynette Lederman.

"He’s the purveyor of hate speech. The hypocritical words that come from him tell me nothing," Lederman continued. "We have people who stand by us who believe in values, not just Jewish values, but believe in values, and those are the not the values of this president, and I do not welcome him to Pittsburgh."

Following the shooting, and last week while bombs were being discovered addressed to Trump critics, the president has oscillated between calling for peace in written statements and targeting democrats and the media in tweets.

On Monday morning, Trump tweeted: "The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the president's rhetoric Monday morning while speaking on CNN. "The president's not trying to reach his base by denouncing anti-Semitism and asking everybody to rise above hate, he's being the president of all Americans," she said.

Bowers was released from the hospital Monday morning and is due to make his first appearance in federal court later in the afternoon to face dozens of charges.