A Holocaust survivor who emerged unscathed from last October’s antisemitic massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and a police officer who was wounded in a shootout with the gunman will be among the invited guests at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night at the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
81-year-old Judah Samet — a Hungarian-born Jew who fought in Israel’s War of Independence after he survived the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp, immigrating to the US in the 1960s — and SWAT team member Timothy Matson — now entering his 15th year of service with the Pittsburgh Police Department — are among the 13 guests selected by President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.
“In October 2018, Tim responded to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue,” a statement from the White House describing Matson said. “He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and saved countless lives in that heinous, anti-Semitic attack.”
In its description of Samet, the White House made special note of his service as “a paratrooper and radio man in the Israeli Defense Forces.”
In media interviews after the attack, Samet recalled that his late arrival by four minutes at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27 saved his life. Pulling into the synagogue parking lot “around 9:49, maybe 9:50,” Samet was startled when a man knocked on his window and warned him that a shooting was taking place inside the synagogue.
“He told me, ‘There’s a shooting inside your synagogue,’” Samet said later. “All of a sudden, I see this guy who was a detective hiding behind a wall but popping his head out. He had a pistol and he was shooting.”
In comments published by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Monday, Samet said of the State of the Union invitation, “Of course, I am very honored. (Trump) invited me, I was told, because I represented two of the biggest tragedies for the Jewish people in the last hundred years.”
“I like him very much,” Samet said about Trump. “He is strongly pro-Israel. That a man would go outright for Israel and declare for Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel … that was something new.”
Officer Matson was wounded multiple times in an exchange of fire with neo-Nazi gunman Robert Bowers, spending several days in critical condition.
The Pittsburgh Public Safety Department said on Tuesday that it was “honored that Officer Matson, on behalf of all city first responders, is being recognized for his life-saving efforts.”
Samet and Matson are part of a State of the Union guest list that also recognizes Elvin Hernandez, a Department of Homeland Security agent who investigates human trafficking, Ashley Evans, a young mother who has successfully overcome her struggle with opioid abuse, and Joshua Trump, a 6th-grader from Delaware whose last name has made him a target of bullies at his school.