President Joe Biden
President Joe BidenScreenshot

The White House on Friday clarified remarks made by President Joe Biden regarding his interaction with the leadership of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh following the 2018 massacre there.

Biden had told Jewish leaders in a virtual address on Thursday that he spent time at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh after the October 2018 mass murder of 11 people there.

Following those remarks, the executive director of the synagogue, Barb Feige, told The New York Postthat Biden did not visit the synagogue in the nearly three years since the anti-Semitic attack.

In a phone interview, Feige firmly said “no” when asked whether Biden had visited the synagogue, saying he did not visit even before taking office when he had a lower public profile as a former vice president and then-Democratic presidential candidate.

A White House official told JTA in a statement on Friday that Biden was referring to a phone call he made after the shooting to the leader of Tree of Life, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers.

“He was referring to a call he had with the Tree of Life Rabbi in 2019,” a White House official said.

Rabbi Myers in a statement to JTA confirmed the call.

“President Biden kindly called me on my cell phone as I was sitting in Dulles Airport awaiting a return flight to Pittsburgh after I testified before Congress in July 2019,” he said. “In a heartfelt way, he extended his condolences and asked how we were doing.”

“We spoke about the challenges of anti-Semitism, and he made clear he would confront it with us as president,” Rabbi Myers continued. “The conversation meant a great deal to me, and I will always be grateful for his kind words and continued support of our community.”

JTA noted that in Thursday’s comments, Biden did not precisely say he visited the synagogue, because he never finished his sentence. He seemed to start out recalling visiting the synagogue, but mid-sentence changed his recollection to speaking with someone.

“And [hate has] been given too much oxygen in the last four, five, seven, 10 years, and it has seen itself, whether it was — I remember spending time at the — you know, going to the — you know, the Tree of Life Synagogue, speaking with the — just — it just is amazing these things are happening — happening in America,” he said.

Then-President Donald Trump visited the Tree of Life synagogue three days after the anti-Semitic shooting attack.

Biden, who was then the Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement on the second anniversary of the attack last year, in which he said, “When anti-Semitism is allowed to fester, it shreds the fabric of our communities and erodes our soul.”

The Pittsburgh shooter, Robert Bowers, was charged with killing 11 people during the October 27, 2018 attack, and injuring six others, including four police officers.

The shooter was armed with an AR-15 and three handguns and allegedly yelled “I want to kill all Jews” during the attack.

He was initially indicted on 44 counts. Later, a federal grand jury added 19 charges to the 44 counts previously levied against Bowers. He has pleaded not guilty to all 63 federal counts.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)