Jewish nurse who treated synagogue shooting suspect calls on ‘love in the face of evil’ in Facebook post

November 29, 2018

A Jewish nurse who treated Robert Bowers moments after the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting said he saw “confusion” but not “evil” when he looked into his eyes.

Ari Mahler, one of two Jewish medical professionals to treat Bowers at Allegheny General Hospital on Oct. 27, said in a lengthy Facebook post over the weekend that Bowers “thanked me for saving him, for showing him kindness, and for treating him the same way I treat every other patient.”

Mahler, a registered nurse at Allegheny General since May, said he did not reveal his Jewish identity to Bowers.

“I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse,” Mahler wrote, “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.”

Even as Bowers was saying, “I want to kill all the Jews,” he was being treated by two Jews -- a trauma nurse and an attending emergency room doctor. Hospital President Dr. Jeff Cohen, who also is Jewish, declined to identify them in an earlier interview with the Tribune-Review, but Mahler said he went public on Facebook to tell his own story.

“I just know I feel alone right now,” he said, “and the irony of the world talking about me doesn’t seem fair without the chance to speak for myself.”

Mahler did not go into detail about his interactions with Bowers, citing medical privacy laws, but described his own experiences with anti-Semitism and his lack of surprise at the attack on Tree of Life Congregation, where 11 people were killed and six injured on Oct. 27.

“The fact that this shooting took place doesn’t shock me. To be honest, it’s only a matter of time before the next one happens,” he said. “History refutes hope that things will change. My heart yearns for change, but today’s climate doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility.”

Mahler grew up the son of Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler, who retired as rabbi of Temple Emanuel of South Hills, a Reform synagogue, in June. He said he experienced anti-Semitism from other school children but more from ignorance than from hate.

“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 said.

Mahler worked as a loan officer and a financial consultant before taking a job as a nurse at Magee-Womens Hospital in 2014, according to his LinkedIn.com profile.

“As an adult, deflecting my religion by saying ‘I’m not that religious,’ makes it easier for people to accept I’m Jewish -- especially when I tell them my father is a rabbi. ‘I’m not that religious,’ is like saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not that Jewish, therefore, I’m not so different than you,’ and like clockwork, people don’t look at me as awkwardly as they did a few seconds beforehand,” he said.

Mahler said he did his best to treat Bowers with “compassion and empathy. ... I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?”

As for Bowers, Mahler said, “To be honest, I didn’t see evil when I looked into Robert Bowers’ eyes. All I saw was a clear lack of depth, intelligence, and palpable amounts of confusion. Robert Bowers probably had no friends, was easily influenced by propaganda, and wanted attention on a sociopathic level. He’s the kind of person that is easily manipulated by people with a microphone, a platform, and use of fear for motivation.”

Mahler ended his Facebook post on the importance of “love in the face of evil. ... I could (not) care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish to instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”

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