Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

Do you feel our pain?

Since the tragic anti-Semitic massacre at Eitz Chayim in Pittsburgh, two statements have caused me to lose sleep: “Did Jerusalem feel anything from this tragedy because we in America feel every terror attack in Israel?” and “How could this happen in America?” As an Oleh, and a native of Jerusalem, these two statements hit me hard. They are telling — while at the same time incongruous.

In regards to the first statement, did Israel feel the pain of the Eitz Chayim massacre; the facts on the ground speak for themselves. Almost immediately after the news broke in Israel, MK Naftali Bennett was on a plane as a representative of Israel’s government. Both in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem, there were murals displaying images of American flags and statements declaring “Pittsburgh we are with you.” The morning after the attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu opened his cabinet meeting with a moment of silence for the synagogue victims. All of these actions, including the countless vigils which happened throughout the country, speak volumes as to how this and other events outside of Israel affect us here. But as much as we felt your pain, American Jews, we did not feel the same thing that you did.

The statement, “How could this happen in America?” speaks volumes to the distance between Israel and American Jewry. Israelis are not shocked by this or any other attack on Jews around the world and there are a reasons for that. The first is that we are numb to it all. We’ve been dealing with attacks of this nature on such a regular basis for so long we have, sadly, become accustomed to it. We are not surprised by any of this — just heartbroken that these senseless acts continue and seem to be spreading throughout all corners of the earth.

My lack of shock is also due to the reality of where I live. Since the Har Nof massacre of 2014, I’ve kept an eye on the door on Shabbat morning and I feel comforted seeing guns at the waists and on the shoulders of my fellow congregants. I realize these are the stakes of the game here and I’m sorry that anyone else had to have a taste of that horror.

However, if the first statement was true that American Jews actually feel each and every terror attack in Israel, than they too should not be shocked. It would not be an attack on American or Israeli soil, it would be an attack on Jews, period. And the unfortunate reality would still be true —that Jews have never been truly safe in any community anywhere in the world.

I’m not assigning blame, though. Everyone feels a connection, or lack thereof, to each of these events dependent on how close they are to the reality. I grew up in Pennsylvania. My sister went to the University of Pittsburgh and the father of one of her sorority sisters was a victim in the Pittsburgh attack. Inevitably, I feel more pain in this instance than I did in relation to the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, for example.

But it shouldn’t be that way. The point isn’t if our emotional response to this event the “correct” one. The point is two fold. We should realize that we are one Jewish family and each of these tragedies takes their toll on all of us. And more importantly, these acts of terror should not happen to anyone, anywhere, anymore. May we never again know such sadness.

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel in Israel , as well as an activist, and a Jewish Educator. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.