One Year after the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre

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It has been just over a year on the Gregorian calendar since that terrible morning (October 27, 2018) in Pittsburgh when a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and murdered 11 innocent people at prayer services. On the Jewish calendar, the Yahrzeit (anniversary of a death) will not be for a few weeks.

I remember where I was when I heard the news. I was in synagogue here in Cleveland Heights when someone brought the terrible tidings. Details were sketchy but we feared it wasn’t good. Once the details emerged our fears were confirmed.

Within days, the Cleveland Jewish Community–along with other communities across the globe–were organizing memorial services. It felt especially close here in Cleveland since Pittsburgh is just a couple of hours away–closer by just a few miles than even Columbus. In this part of the Midwest there is a lot of mobility and nearby Jewish communities have a sense of kinship and overlapping of families. When I was in high school (having grown up in the Detroit area) I even attended a youth group conference that took place at this synagogue. This was not some far away shooting that affected others; it felt personal.

Since then, there is a feeling among many in the American Jewish community that something has dramatically and fundamentally changed. Our sense of belonging in this country has been challenged; an aspect of Jewish history that has been constant is that in nearly every place where Jews have been settled, we have either been expelled or persecuted or worst. I always thought that the USA was different: it is a democracy (still?!) and a nation made up of immigrants, those whose ancestors were brought here against their will, and a small but important minority of Native Americans. This is a place where anyone regardless of their background can become an American–and that is the way I have always felt.

With Pittsburgh something changed. I wonder whether there really is a future for Jews in America or whether what we see going on now is just the beginning of a long, dark path leading to yet another wandering. On the one hand it is unthinkable, but on the other hand Jewish history tells me otherwise.

I am astounded and angry that so little is done in this country to curb gun violence; when nothing was done after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, I realized this country had a problem in its soul. I am incredulous that many political leaders not only do not speak out against xenophobia but actually promote it. The depths to which levels of discourse in the USA have sunk make it hard to imagine much positive change in the short-term…and perhaps even in the longer-term.

I am sad. My heart aches for the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, for the victim’s families, and for our world. I cannot imagine the loss felt in the Steel City.

I am also afraid. I fear that saner voices will not be heard, that the deafening daily distractions will drown them out. I am afraid that things will get worse for the Jewish community in the US (and elsewhere) that has already had to spend millions to upgrade security. Does your house of worship have an armed security guard during prayer services? Mine does….now. How can we focus on feeding the hungry, pursuing justice, seeking peace, educating our youth, looking after the elderly, and caring for the sick when we must divert funds to simply keep ourselves safe and secure?

I will do what I can at the voting booth as well as by contacting my elected officials. I will demand that steps be taken to put this country back on track and make it the place where ALL Americans feel at home. Hopefully my worst fears will not be realized and next year at this time, we will see a new light shining on our great nation–a light of peace, knowledge, justice and love. We must do more than hope…we must act.