The Jewish Nurse who Treated the Pittsburgh Murderer
Coming face to face with unspeakable evil, being Jewish gave Ari Mahler the courage to stand up for what he believed in.
As news started spreading that a shooting was taking place in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Ari Mahler panicked. His father was a rabbi, and it was possible his parents were among the victims.
At the time, Ari was working in the Emergency Room of Allegheny General Hospital, where he’s a nurse. Robert Bowers, the shooter, screamed “All Jews must die!” as he was wheeled into the ER. Ari, along with at least two Jewish doctors, rushed in to save him.
While Bowers was making his blood-curdling threats, Ari was faced with a split-second decision. “This was the same Robert Bowers that just committed mass homicide,” Ari wrote on a Facebook posting that went viral. “The Robert Bowers who instilled panic in my heart worrying my parents were two of his 11 victims less than an hour before his arrival” – the same shooter who “15 minutes beforehand, (would) shoot me in the head with no remorse”. Yet in that crucial moment, Ari didn’t hesitate. He ran to Bowers’ side and joined other Jewish medics to save his life.
Ari Mahler, Facebook
Ari writes that he faced a lot anti-Semitism growing up. Classmates would leave drawings of Ari’s family being marched into gas chambers on his desk at school. He’d find swastikas carved into his locker and notes saying “Die Jew. Love, Hitler”. He never told anyone, knowing that telling “would only lead to consequences far worse”.
Instead, Ari “hid behind fear” and downplayed his Jewishness which had derogatory connotations attached to it. In his post, Ari wrote that he’s not surprised that the shooting took place and feels because of rising anti-Semitism that “it’s only a matter of time before the next one happens.” Jews make up about 2% of the US population, yet are the recipients of well over half of all religiously motivated hate crimes. Hiding one’s Jewishness can seem like an easy way to escape the hate.
The habit of minimizing his Jewishness continued into adulthood. Ari would stress to people that he might be Jewish but he wasn’t particularly religious: “‘I’m not that religious’ is like saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not that Jewish, therefore, I’m not so different than you,’” Ari explained.
The shooting has changed all that. Suddenly, Ari’s Jewishness is central. As he faced Robert Bowers in the ER, Ari decided to react not only as a highly trained professional, but as a Jew. Bowers might claim that Jews are evil and dangerous, but that only made Ari more determined to prove otherwise. “I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong” and treat him with empathy and kindness.”
It’s not that Ari thinks Bowers will repudiate his anti-Semitism if he realizes that a Jew saved his life – nor does he care what Bowers thinks. The shooter thanked his doctors and nurses for saving his life, but Ari is unmoved: “I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish,” he notes. “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.”
Instead, Ari took to social media because he wants the rest of us to know why he chose to treat Bowers with professionalism and care, why he chose to ignore the hatred in the patient before him and stay true to himself, dispensing his usual care. “Love,” Ari explains: “That’s why I did it. 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,” Ari wrote, “but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish (to) instill in you.”
In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh shooting, Ari and the other Jewish medical professionals who saved the shooters life have been getting lots of attention in the press for their Jewishness. “When I was a kid, being labeled ‘The Jewish (anything)’, undoubtedly had derogatory connotations,” Ari notes. At first he felt funny about being called “The Jewish nurse” in media reports. Now that he’s chosen to tell his own story, he wants the world to know that for him, being Jewish at last means something positive to him.
Coming face to face with unspeakable evil, being Jewish gave Ari Mahler the courage to stand up for what he believed in, to be decent and kind, to be a mensch.