SQUIRREL HILL (KDKA) — The attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue was an attack on Judah Samet’s heart.
“I’m there every morning, Friday night, Saturday morning, Sunday morning, the synagogue is my life,” Samet said.
Why is it so important?
“I’m a Jew! It revives you like fresh water. I try to live by the Bible as much as possible,” Samet said.
So on Saturday morning, he was getting ready to go to the Tree of Life with the help of his long-time house keeper Patty.
“I was talking to Patty so I got there late. Instead of 9:45, it was 9:49,” Samet said.
As he pulled into the handicapped spot outside the synagogue, Samet had no idea he was pulling into the middle of mayhem until a man appeared at his driver’s door.
“In a very soothing and low voice, he told me I should move, there is a shooting going on in the synagogue,” Samet said.
Samet guessed it took him a minute to process the idea of a shooting in the synagogue.
“I was puzzled you know. It’s a synagogue! Why is there a shooting in a synagogue?” he said.
Then another man in civilian clothes appeared on the other side of his car and starting firing a handgun towards the entrance and Samet heard the gunman return fire.
“Pop pop pop, pop pop pop, pop pop pop, and then he stopped and the police shot, that happened about three times it went on. I was anxious so I pushed my head towards the passenger side and I saw him. I saw the smoke coming out of his gun as he was shooting, and then he disappeared,” Samet said.
That’s when a wave of police arrived.
“They came from all over. There must of been maybe 100, maybe more police cars, everybody was here,” Samet said.
Inside the synagogue, Samet knew all the victims and where they sat, and where he would have been.
“The shooter was shooting this way. I would have been in the line of fire because he killed Rose. Rose was 97 years old,” Samet said.
As police worked to find the shooter inside the synagogue, Samet got out of the parking lot, circled Squirrel Hill and returned home to Patty who had been watching the coverage.
“She was crying and hugging me and kissing me and that’s what I’ve been getting the last two days,” Samet said.
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Judah Samet has thought a lot about why he was spared.
“Because I was in the line of fire and I believe very strongly it’s providential,” he said.
The work of God he believes because when he was 6 years old he survived the Holocaust. He and his family had been on a train out of his native Hungary on the way to Auschwitz when allied forces blew up in the tracks ahead of the train. They ended up in Austria where another train was pulled into the station.
“They asked people to get on the train. My mother grabbed the four of us, her husband, my grandparents, her brother. We knew it was a death train so they were looking for a place to finish us. We were going around for weeks,” Samet said.
But it was near the end of the war and the train stopped and their German guards abandoned them. The next thing they knew, a tank was approaching and they thought it was the end. But it was an American tank and when the hatch opened, Samet says, “You know, it was a Jewish fellow from Brooklyn.”
From his liberation, Samet would eventually find his way to Pittsburgh. He would run a jewelry store in the Clark Building (which is still in operation) and he would work on the staff of Tree of Life for 40 years.
But it’s his other mission in life that he credits with saving him on Saturday morning. Samet often gives talks in schools and churches, mostly Christian, about the Holocaust and his family’s story of survival. He knows he’s one of the youngest Holocaust survivors still out there keeping the memory and the lesson alive, and he believes that is exactly what God wants him to do.
Samet: “Who knows the ways of God, it says ‘mysterious are the ways of God.’ We don’t know how he acts, but he acts, he’s not there, you don’t see him.”
KDKA-TV’s John Shumway: “And you are still here.”
Samet: “Yes, I’m still here.”
As for returning to the Tree of Life, a place he dearly loves, Samet says, “It’s going to be tough. For a while, it’s going to be tough because I’m going to look at the chairs, I knew where everybody sat.”