Due to a nor’easter, the weather in NYC was wet and raw yesterday. The crowd at Ansche Chesed was light and the feeling was cozy. I was delighted that Bill joined me. His childhood friend Ben sat with us at lunch and noticed my necklace, commenting that it was the Garden of Eden. No, I told him, it is a Tree of Life. For some reason, yesterday morning I switched up my signature bird necklace for another favorite archetype, the Tree of Life.
We arrived home and I saw a message from my childhood friend Steph, who has spent her adult life in the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh. At 10:58 am Steph wrote, “There is a mass shooting at a conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh.” My connections to the Pittsburgh Jewish community run deep; not only do I have cherished memories from my CRUSY days decades ago, my brother Scott serves as the cantorial soloist in the conservative synagogue in the southern suburbs. In fact, the rabbi who just married Steph’s daughter Sarah is the same rabbi who Scott sings with every year. My children, active in youth groups, also have many friends in the Squirrel Hill area. I knew that once again, a terrorist attack targeting Jews was going to hit very close to home. That is one of those elements that bind the Jewish People, one to another. We are Family.
That this attack on the Jews of Pittsburgh, which is nothing less than an attack on the American Jewish community, happened immediately after the JFNA’s Generaly Assembly in Tel Aviv, was chilling to me. I had just spent 4 days in Tel Aviv, never once fearing for my safety. As the organized Jewish world convened on the Tel Aviv fairgrounds, there was not a trace of fear. The atmosphere in Tel Aviv is different than in Jerusalem. There is not the heaviness that I often feel in the Holy City, for many reasons. From the rooftop of the convention hall, the fairground’s Ferris wheel provided a festive backdrop to the GA. While the news from the US of the pipe bombs was disturbing, it was somewhat of a relief to be focusing more on issues of Identity than issues of Security. Even if there were those who felt that the JFNA’s decision to not focus much on the Israeli-Palestinian was misguided. I can only imagine the shock that is traveling home with those who spent Shabbat in Israel after the GA. They come home to a different American Jewish community. One where the issue of Security, in the wake of Anti-Semitism, has become the issue on the communal agenda. Even when we try to change the communal agenda, we are forced to return to that core issue of protecting ourselves in a hostile world.
Once again, I feel like my world has been turned upside down. Like in 2001, the place that is supposed to be the “safe” place is now the one riddled by fear while the once “unsafe” place serves as a source of comfort and support. After spending the summer in Israel in 2001, during the height of the Intifada, I came home to Cleveland and was comforted by a secure and safe feeling. When America was attacked several weeks later on 9/11, the fear and terror that was in the air in Israel followed me home. Like most of us, I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. At the time, I was chairing the Partnership between Cleveland and the Beit Shean Region. We had just finished our Rosh HaShana video conference (this was in the very early days of video conferencing), wishing each other a good and safe year and reaffirming our deep support for Israel during those very difficult days. Just a few hours later, we would be receiving shocked expressions of support from our family in the Region.
In a haunting reminder of those days, today my mailbox and Facebook Page are filled with expressions of sympathy and support from countless Jewish organizations, congregations and agencies throughout the world. The State of Israel has expressed its solidarity with the Jews of Pittsburgh; Consul General Danny Daon has been on the news. From HaZamir to the JFNA, the organized Jewish world is shocked by this brazen attack on the American Jewish community. How could such an attack happen here in 2018?
The first time I felt this way, the answer was simple. 19 individuals, in the name of radical Islamic terrorism, intent on destroying America, attacked us by flying airplanes into the buildings. This time, the terrorist is an American Nazi armed with an automatic weapon who walked into a synagogue named Tree of Life. Emboldened by a culture of hatred and violence, empowered by a Second Amendment that has trumped the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, an American citizen shot up other Americans, just because they were Jews. This is Trump’s America. This is not the America I know and love.
Steph had mentioned that our friend Debbie’s cousin had a connection to one of the victim’s. As the names were released, I spoke to Debbie and learned that 97 year-old Rose Malinger, z”l, was her cousin Lauren’s mother-in-law. I remember Lauren and her brother Jon visiting Debbie in the summer in Akron. There was the personal connection that I knew was there. I asked Debbie to please share my deepest sympathies to Lauren on the loss of her mother-in-law.
May Rose Malinger’s memory, as well as the memories of the other victims of this gruesome attack, be the blessing that fuels a movement. In the memory of these and too many other victims, we must organize and demand that weapons of war be off the streets so that no community suffers this way again. This time, the power to make change is in our hands. May we be strengthened to act by the One Above, guided by the words found in our Tree of Life.