Did Biden Visit Tree of Life Synagogue?

Eleven people were murdered by a white supremacist at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018.

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Claim

U.S. President Joe Biden visited the Tree of Life Synagogue after a mass shooting in 2018.

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Context

Biden said he remembered "spending time" at the Tree of Life Synagogue and then that he remembered "speaking with" people from the synagogue. There is no evidence that Biden actually visited the synagogue following the mass shooting in October 2018, but he did call and speak with Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers several months later.

Origin

In September 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden held a virtual address with a number of Jewish leaders in the days before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During his remarks, Biden talked about the “scourge of anti-Semitism” and at one point said that he visited the Tree of Life synagogue after an October 2018 mass shooting that killed 11 people in 2018.

Here’s a transcript of the remark from the White House. You can view this comment at the 8:10 mark of the included video.

I used to think that hate could be defeated, it could be wiped out. But I learned a long time ago, it can’t. It only hides. It hides. It hides under the rocks. And given any oxygen at all, it comes out. It’s a minority view, but it comes out and it comes out raging.

And it’s been given too much oxygen in the last 4, 5, 7, 10 years, and it has seen itself, whether it was — I remember spending time at the — you know, going to the — you know, the Tree of Life Synagogue, speaking with the — just — it just is amazing these things are happening — happening in America.

Shortly after Biden’s remarks, Barb Feige, executive director of the Tree of Life, told the New York Post that Biden did not visit the synagogue in the days following the attack, nor has he visited in the three years since. 

Barb Feige, executive director of the Tree of Life, said that Biden did not visit the synagogue in the nearly three years since the anti-Semitic attack.

In a phone interview, Feige, executive director since July 2019, said firmly that “no” Biden didn’t visit, even before taking office when he had a lower public profile as a former vice president and then-Democratic presidential candidate.

Biden said that he remembered “spending time at the … Tree of Life Synagogue,” but we have not been able to find any record of such a visit. Biden also said that he remembered “speaking with” people at the Synagogue and it’s possible Biden was referring to a phone call.

On Sept. 3, 2021, Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, of Tree of Life, released a statement to WPIX saying that he had spoken to Biden by phone a little less than a year after the shooting and that they had discussed the challenges surrounding antisemitism. 

“President Biden kindly called me on my cell phone as I was sitting in Dulles Airport awaiting a return flight to Pittsburgh after I testified before Congress in July 2019. In a heartfelt way, he extended his condolences and asked how we were doing. We spoke about the challenges of antisemitism, and he made clear he would confront it with us as president. The conversation meant a great deal to me, and I will always be grateful for his kind words and continued support of our community.”

Biden has made several public comments about this shooting. In the immediate aftermath, while Biden was campaigning for Ohio Democrats, he criticized the inflammatory rhetoric of former U.S. President Donald Trump, according to ABC News, saying that “It’s on our leaders to set the tone, to dial down the temperature” and to add “dignity to our national dialogue.”

Biden has also put out statements on social media to mark the anniversary of the deadly attack.

Biden said that he “remembered spending time at” and “speaking with” people from the Tree of Life synagogue following the deadly mass shooting in October 2018, but the president made no such visit. It’s likely that Biden was referring to a phone call that he had several months later with Tree of Life Rabbi Myers.

Recent Updates
  1. UPDATE [3 September 2021]: Added a statement from Rabbi Myers confirming a call with the president in July 2019.
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