It was Solidarity Shabbat and the pews were full. So upsetting was the murder of 11 Jewish worshipers in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, so saturated was the media coverage of the victims and survivors, so pained were the commentaries, and so overwhelming was the compassionate and supportive response to the tragedy that even if last Saturday hadn’t been given a special name, synagogues here and across the country would have been the place to turn to for comfort and community.
And so they came. Jews who don’t normally attend Shabbat or even any services — joined by pained and supportive neighbors of all faiths and creeds who were shaken by the hate and death brought upon innocent people at the three congregations in the Tree of Life building.
They came to show solidarity and support. Fervently. Publicly. With love. And we welcomed the comfort of the warm communal embrace.
Because of this support, as shocked, shaken and traumatized as we are by the horrors meted out on our community members, we recognize that as we approach the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht on Nov. 9 and 10, this is not 1938.
Before the murders at Tree of Life, the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a poll finding that more than 70 percent of Jewish respondents believe anti-Semitism is on the rise, while only 30 percent of the entire polling group agreed with that assessment. Perhaps the Tree of Life massacre might have changed the result. But that is beside the point. Jews are Jews and non-Jews are not. Perceptions and experiences differ. And just like whites can’t know what it’s like to “drive while black,” it is difficult for anyone not a member of the Jewish community to appreciate the very real threat of anti-Semitism.
And still they came. And they grieved and tried to heal with us.
So where do we go from here? Can we galvanize the concern and compassion of our neighbors to increased levels of tolerance, support and understanding? Or will the empathy fade as we go through the next news cycle or get distracted by the next catastrophe? Here in the Jewish community, will we still be able to fill the pews or count on increased commitments of time, money and energy to our organizations and institutions?
Sure, this is not 1938. But we need to set the tone and provide the example. We need people like Imam Hamza Perez of Light of the Age Mosque, who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after Rodef Shalom’s Solidarity Shabbat service: “We’re not going to allow the Jewish community to respond alone. We’re going to respond as one people. And that’s the beauty of it, that the city can set an example nationwide how we can come together.”
We’re also going to need each other, Jewish brothers and sisters, recommitting ourselves to our Jewish community. That is what ultimately will keep us vibrant from one Shabbat to the next.
May it be so. PJC