Brian Burke

Forward, Not On

Memorial candles at the communal memorial following the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, October 28, 2018 (Office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf/Wikimedia Commons)

This week marks three years since the horrific events of October 27, 2018, the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history. Trying to process the tragedy was one of the things that led me into counseling that fall. 

It was my first experience of really reaching out for that kind of help as a college student. I was a few months into senior year and also dealing with some issues in my personal life. One of the things that stuck out to me from those weekly sessions overlooking Pitt’s campus was the idea of being able to get to a place of moving forward, but not on, when coping with personal and communal grief and trauma. 

I did not think this at the time, but I now realize that the concept is very Jewish in nature. Jewish traditions, rituals, and practices from ancient times until today are centered around these very ideas. 

As we read the Haggadah on Passover, we are called on to not just remember the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt but to see ourselves as if we had personally come out of Egypt. The horrors of slavery recounted in the biblical story and Haggadah are behind us, but we must remember the foundational impact of yetziat mitzrayim on the Jewish story. 

The Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., ending the Temple sacrifice and pilgrimage-centered Judaism that existed since the days of Solomon. Judaism survived and thrived following the destruction of the Temple and end of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem for thousands of years. The centrality of the city in Jewish thought and ritual never diminished, though. It remained the center of the collective Jewish soul and the holiest of holy cities. 

The avodah service on Yom Kippur recounts the rituals undertaken by the high priest in the Temple. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple following its desecration by the Syrian Greeks. Multiple fast days are centered around remembering attacks on Jerusalem and the destruction of both Temples. One of the reasons a glass is broken under the chuppah at a wedding is to commemorate the destruction of the Temple. Rebuilding the Temple is part of the traditional view of the messianic age. Countless prayers refer to rebuilding and redeeming the holy city. 

When studying and remembering the Holocaust, we focus not just on the evils and terror of the Nazis and their collaborators, but on memorializing the lives of the victims and learning from the testimonies of survivors. The Jewish people will never “move on” from the Holocaust. We learn about the millions of lives lost and worlds destroyed. We vow never again. We try to take the lessons of the Shoah and make them relevant in a world that is always in need of fixing. And we continue to exist and strive to create meaningful and thriving Jewish communities, experiences, ideas, and culture. 

The enemies of Jews and Judaism and the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history do not squarely define us. How we react and have reacted to them does. 

I know I, like so many reading this, will never move on from the events of October 27. My sense of security was shattered. I knew a person killed in the United States of America in the twenty-first century simply for being a Jew. I think about it every day. Life has never been the same. 

All I can do is strive everyday to continue the process of moving forward. 

May the memories of the eleven kedoshim be for an eternal blessing. 

About the Author
Brian Burke is a Pittsburgh native and 2019 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied political science, history, and Jewish studies. In college, he was involved with Hillel and the David Project, holding several leadership positions including president of the Pitt Hillel Jewish Student Union in 2018. Like many early 20-somethings, he is figuring out what comes next amidst the health and economic uncertainties of these times. Follow him on Twitter @BrianBurkePGH.
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