For days he was known only as “The Jewish Nurse,” the person whose compassion captivated the world in the days after the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 Jewish people dead.
He was the nurse who cared for Robert Bowers, the accused shooter, as Bowers reportedly yelled “Death to all Jews” as he was wheeled into the emergency room at Allegheny General Hospital last month.
Now The Jewish Nurse is no longer nameless. He is Ari Mahler, who came forward for the first time over the weekend to tell the story of Oct. 27 in a powerful social media post. The Facebook post, which has been shared more than 133,000 times as of early Monday, began, “I am The Jewish Nurse." From there, it chronicled how Mahler found empathy for the suspected perpetrator of the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history at a time when the world fixated on his hatred.
“Love. That’s why I did it,” Mahler wrote in the Facebook 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. … I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish to instill in you.”
A spokesman for Allegheny General Hospital confirmed the authenticity of Mahler’s claim and the Facebook post to The Washington Post. Mahler declined further comment.
Mahler’s story first emerged when Allegheny General Hospital President Jeffrey Cohen, who is also Jewish and a member of Tree of Life synagogue, told multiple news outlets that a Jewish nurse and Jewish doctor were among the first to treat the suspected shooter. The 46-year-old Bowers, who has pleaded not guilty to 44 charges, including hate crimes, had suffered multiple gunshot wounds during a shootout with police.
Before Bowers arrived, Mahler had panicked: He worried his parents might be among the victims, he said. But later, as Bowers was wheeled into the emergency room, “I didn’t see evil when I looked into Bower’s eyes,” Mahler wrote. “I saw something else.”
“I can tell you that as his nurse, or anyone’s nurse, my care is given through kindness,” he wrote, “my actions are measured with empathy, and regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher.” He added that patient privacy laws limited how much he could say about his interactions with Bowers. “This was the same Robert Bowers that just committed mass homicide. 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.”
Mahler, the son of a rabbi, said in his post that the “fact that this shooting took place doesn’t shock me.”
He cited statistics about hate crimes targeting Jewish people, saying, “I don’t know why people hate us so much, but the underbelly of anti-Semitism seems to be thriving." The FBI found most recently in 2016 that Jews were victims of 54 percent of all anti-religious hate crimes, despite accounting for only about 2 percent of the U.S. population.
Mahler had experienced plenty of anti-Semitism as a kid, he wrote. He had found drawings left on desks showing his family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on his locker and notes left inside reading, “Die Jew. Love, Hitler.” And so when he emerged nameless in headlines suddenly as “The Jewish Nurse,” all in stories that had celebrated his religious identity, the experience was almost foreign to him — “awkward,” he called it.
“When I was a kid, being labeled ‘The Jewish (anything),’ undoubtedly had derogatory connotations attached to it. That’s why it feels so awkward to me that people suddenly look at it as an endearing term,” he wrote. “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.”
Mahler made a choice as he treated Bowers’s bullet wounds in the emergency room that day, he said. He didn’t think Bowers knew he was Jewish, because Bowers had thanked him, and, “why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse?” he wrote.
He decided he would not “say a word to him about my religion.”
“I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him 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?"
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