Editor’s note: The following letters represent a sample of what the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle received in the days after the Tree of Life shooting.
As an Israeli immigrant and a Jewish person, I was very upset to hear of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the loss of the victims and the pain of their families. What a truly upsetting day for Pittsburgh and all Jewish people around the world, as well as all Pennsylvanians. And all because people just were exercising their right of “freedom of religion” and practicing it in peace.
Why can’t people stop killing one another because they are of a different religion?
In 1981, seven American Jews from Pittsburgh, including several members of Congregation Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill, clandestinely visited me, then a Jewish refusenik, in Moscow. It was followed by many more visits like that, including a group that included the future mayor of Pittsburgh, Sophie Masloff.
For the next six years, the Pittsburgh Seven, as they were nicknamed — who managed to meet with 41 refuseniks in Moscow and Leningrad, bringing back stories of hope and despair — tirelessly advocated on my behalf as well as on behalf of thousands of others like myself, until I was finally allowed to leave my anti-Semitic motherland behind. In May 1987, I was invited to the bimah of the Tree of Life synagogue to speak to the congregation about the plight of many other refuseniks still behind the Iron Curtain, to thank the Jewish community of Pittsburgh for their support and to accept a resolution of the Pittsburgh City Council naming May 31, 1987, as a day in my honor in the City of Pittsburgh
Today, 31 years later, I attended Sabbath services at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco to join in reading the Mourner’s Kaddish for the 11 Jews killed by an anti-Semite — in the very synagogue that welcomed me. What a terrible irony.
Dear Pittsburghers, once you had wished me strength. It is my turn to wish you strength and healing.
I want to deeply thank Rabbi Danny Schiff, Hazzan Rob Menes and Sheldon Caplan for the wonderful and even-handed effort that made this past Shabbat include all three of the affected and displaced congregations. The Shabbat service was so meaningful for us and the greater Jewish community.
Vice president for administration, Dor Hadash
Like everyone in Squirrel Hill and in the Jewish community, I am still coming to terms with the tremendous tragedy and brutal killing that occurred in our backyard. I am writing about my personal reasons for marching in the Bend the Arc rally to protest President Donald Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh last week.
In a time of great difficulty, this was a way to show love and support for my community and to stand up against hate. I thought for a long time about the message I wanted to send to the world through my participation in the rally. I was angry at Trump for his inability to distance himself from white nationalists and to condemn hate, and for the lack of empathy and the demonization of those fleeing persecution and violence.
For my poster, I decided that the two most important ideas to convey were, first, the importance of our civic duty to vote, and secondly, our obligation to love and to teach our children to love all people. My poster read “Vote for Love.”
At the march, I saw people from all faiths and different ethnicities. I saw children and parents. I saw students and the elderly. I saw love and support in a time of despair and loss. It was the first time since the attack that I felt comforted. I realized that this tragedy was not just a tragedy for the Jewish people, but a tragedy for all of us.
At the beginning of the march, the Bend the Arc organizers spoke about their reasons for organizing it and taught us songs. As I sang along, I became overwhelmed by the beautiful peaceful melody sung by thousands. It was a communal grieving and protest, it was a way to create something meaningful in response to something so ugly and vile. This is a time for community, faith, reflection, and an opportunity to give thanks for what we have and to reach out to those less fortunate.