Just over a week ago on Saturday, October 27, the world was stunned when a shooter opened fire on the worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before law enforcement could arrive and subdue the shooter, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, he’d already taken eleven lives and wounded many others, including two of the responding SWAT officers. The entire violent exchange lasted nearly twenty minutes before Bowers was wounded and surrendered.
As expected after all tragedies, the medical community of Pittsburgh quickly stepped up to help, rushing aid to the victims and working as hard as possible to ensure that the number of dead did not rise by a single person more.
But for nurse Ari Mahler, who also happens to be Jewish himself, the work took a much more difficult and much more personal turn than he’d expected… when he discovered that his patient was none other than Robert Bowers—the alleged murderer, the man who just moments before had allegedly acted upon his belief that “all Jews must die.”
Nurse Mahler could have requested to be given another assignment and no one would have blamed him, but instead, he stayed true to his commitment to nursing, and began treating Bowers as best he could.
“Bowers thanked me for saving him, for showing him kindness, and for treating him the same way I treat every other patient,” Ari wrote in a lengthy Facebook post shortly after the ordeal. “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? … This was the same Robert Bowers that just (allegedly) committed mass homicide. The Robert Bowers who instilled panic in my heart worrying (that) my parents were two of his 11 victims less than an hour before his arrival.”
The son of a rabbi, Nurse Mahler says that he’d been no stranger to anti-Semitism as he grew up, even in the relatively peaceful community of Squirrel Hill.
“I found drawings on my desks of my family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on my locker, and notes shoved inside of it saying, ‘Die Jew. Love, Hitler.’ It was a different time back then, where bullying was not monitored like it is now,” he wrote.
This experience could have made him bitter. It could have easily driven him to hate those who hated him and his family. But instead, he began to see the perpetrators as people acting out of ignorance, a perspective that played a huge part in his treatment of Bowers.
Mahler said he did his best to treat Bowers with compassion and empathy, and that he felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong.
“Love. That’s why I did it,” Nurse Mahler concludes in his post. “Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.
Respectfully, Ari Mahler, RN.”