For one well-known Portsmouth native, the recent mass shooting at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh struck very close to home – or what was home.
Portsmouth native Al Oliver spent 18 years playing Major League Baseball, including eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. During the time he played for the Pirates, Oliver made his home in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the shooting, which claimed the lives of 11 persons worshiping at a Jewish synagogue, took place Saturday.
Oliver told the Daily Times he was at a baseball card signing when he heard news of the shooting. Oliver said it immediately worried him as he made and maintains many friends in the Jewish community in the Squirrel Hill area. Oliver added he did not have immediate access to extensive news regarding the tragedy but was later relieved to find out none of his friends were among those murdered. He is certain however, he knows people directly affected by the massacre.
Oliver said he visits Pittsburgh, where he started his major-league career, on a regular basis.
“When I go back to Pittsburgh, I will visit that place of worship just to show my support,” Oliver vowed.
Having earned his ministerial license in April, Oliver is now an occasional preacher at Beulah Baptist Church, which he attended as a child. His baseball days well behind him, Oliver also is a well-traveled motivational speaker. He said he spent nine years living on Squirrel Hill, adding he has taken his children to visit the neighborhood, to show them the house they were born in. A daughter took pictures of the home on at least one of those trips and Oliver described her as very struck by recent events.
“It really bothered her. ‘That’s Home, Daddy,’ she said,” Oliver stated, adding being a minister himself only adds to his feelings regarding what occurred.
“These people were in their house of worship praying to their God,” Oliver continued. He said the very last thing persons at prayer should need to worry about is someone walking through their church or temple doors, trying to kill them.
“I realize the country is somewhat divided right now,” Oliver said, adding he didn’t really want to get into politics. He did condemn a statement from the White House suggesting the synagogue should’ve had more security.
“That’s a terrible statement to come from the leadership of this country,” Oliver said.
Nevertheless, he declined to hold the country’s leadership at all responsible for what happened, as some critics have, saying this was the action of an obviously twisted individual.
“He obviously had something against them (Jews), which right now I don’t think any of us know what that was, but whatever it was, it’s just sad that we live in a world and in a society where there is so much hatred and evil,” Oliver said.
He again mentioned the friendships he made in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, talking especially about playing racquetball at the local Jewish center.
“I was raised in a very spiritual home,” Oliver concluded. “Not even being of the Jewish faith, this has to hit home with any person who believes in God, regardless of your faith. It has to give you something to think about.”
Oliver will be part of a community remembrance event 7 p.m. tonight at the Temple B’nai Abraham, 1239 Second St., Portsmouth. The temple was sold to Shawnee State University some time ago and the building is now part of the SSU campus. A rabbinical student from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati also will be part of the event which is free and open to the public.