Even on Jewish Pittsburgh’s darkest day — Oct. 27, 2018 — there was light.
Almost immediately, people from near and far, Jews and non-Jews, friends and strangers, began reaching out to the community with words of shared grief, sympathy and outrage.
Those words helped Pittsburgh’s Jewish community feel that it was not alone and set it on a path toward healing, according to Jordan Golin, president and CEO of Jewish Family and Community Services.
An inspiring collection of the notes, emails and cards collected in the weeks following Oct. 27 has been assembled in a book called “Dear Pittsburgh,” published by JFCS and given to the victims, families of victims, congregations and first responders of the anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life synagogue building.
“The book is very meaningful,” said Ellen Leger, whose husband, Dan Leger, was seriously wounded in the attack. “I have it on our coffee table, and I am slowly getting through all the entries. I want to take my time, so I can savor each comment.”
The words of support “coming from people of all ages, religions and backgrounds has been very healing,” she said. “It really has helped. It helps us know we are not alone.”
The book was the idea of Rebecca Remson, director of communications of JFCS, who knows firsthand what it feels like to be a victim of terrorism. In 2011, the Pittsburgh native was living in Israel when a bomb planted by a Palestinian terrorist exploded at a bus stop, ripping through the back of the bus she was riding.
Remson escaped with just an eye injury, but afterward went to work at the OneFamily Fund in Jerusalem to help ease the pain of other victims and survivors of Palestinian terrorist attacks. While at OneFamily, Remson witnessed the flood of letters of support coming in for victims and their families, and made sure that those words were delivered to those who needed to read them.
“I know that words of comfort and support help families who are dealing with grief and anguish,” Remson said.
Just two days after the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue building, JFCS set up a website where people could leave written messages for those who were suffering in Pittsburgh. Within one week, JFCS had collected more than 500 messages, and by the end of the campaign it had collected about 1,000 more.
Those writing notes “just wanted us to know they stood with us,” said Remson.
Thousands of additional messages of support have gone directly to the individual congregations that were attacked, the families of the victims, the wounded and to other local Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. The Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives also has been collecting emails, letters and other communications to ensure that a historical record is preserved of the event and its aftermath.
The JFCS book is not intended to be a comprehensive collection of the messages of comfort received by Jewish Pittsburgh, according to Golin.
“It’s just a snapshot,” he said. “And it was a way to allow people to help.”
There are messages from children, from communities, from families.
“You are strong, and you will get through this. You are not alone,” wrote Owen Gustafson of Buffalo, Minn.
“My prayers are with you,” wrote Sister Carol Boschert of O’Fallon, Mo.
“The whole world is mourning for the beautiful lives that were taken from us,” wrote “Leah,” from Shawnee, Kan.
The book was compiled by JFCS staffers Dave Offord, strategic marketing specialist, and Sarah Welch, director of the JFCS Career Development Center.
In addition to the notes of comfort, “Dear Pittsburgh” contains Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articles about each of the 11 people who were murdered in the attack, their photos and a letter of condolence from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The books are available to the public, by request, and for a donation of more than $100. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.