Pittsburgh: Time to Choose Peoplehood Over Politics

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This morning I woke up to find that yet another barrage of rockets slammed into Israeli communities along the Gaza border last night. Only a few hours later did I learn that a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had been attacked by an anti-Semitic shooter during morning Shabbat services. It didn’t take long for one political writer in America to tie the suffering of Jews on these shores back to Israel in the grossest of terms. Instead of finding unity in our mutual suffering, GQ writer Julia Ioffe simply asserted that the moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem motivated the synagogue attack:

And a word to my fellow American Jews: This president makes this possible. Here. Where you live. I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live was worth it.

These attacks came after the Jewish Federations of North America hosted their hotly contested General Assembly (GA) in Tel Aviv earlier in the week. The majority of the commentary coming out of the GA was almost as nauseating as Ioffe’s vicious tweet. The only thing writers on either side of the globe could agree on was that everyone’s politics were wrong. The Right dismissed the event as too leftist; the Left dismissed the event as too right wing. Israelis used the opportunity to mock the ignorance of the Diaspora while the Diaspora used the platform to lecture Israelis on internal political matters. Contention. Divisiveness. And why, oh why was the GA not hosted in Jerusalem? Trump was the obvious answer, because God forbid we have a discussion these days without mentioning Trump.

As political as the GA may be (certainly the JFNA has a political platform) the daily reality of the Jewish Federation is about as far from political as one can get. Most Jews connected to their local Federation think of it as nothing more than a clearinghouse for community information; the office that sends them an email once a week with updates on events going on at local shuls or the JCC. Very often Federation offices house space for Jewish Family and Children’s Services, where social workers manage food pantries, coordinate psychological counseling and organize programming for seniors and kids. Through programs like PJ Library they send books and music to babies. It’s the bottom line, not the Green Line that takes priority at most Federations where every dollar counts towards a kosher meal on wheels or a chance for a teen to attend summer camp.

How political is life for the Israelis living along the Gaza border? Well, my guess is that they’re far too busy running their kids back and forth from shelters to really get into deep dialogue about social justice. However, I bet they are no less terrified than their Jewish American counterparts were in Pittsburgh this morning. The greatest truth of today isn’t that anti-Semitism exists in America. It is that there is no here versus there. We are all one. We are all under threat. We all must be on guard. And above all else we all must guard each other.

There is more than irony in a shooter declaring, “all Jews must die” in a synagogue named Tree of Life while a brit milah is occurring. Only last month we prayed prayers of resurrection from death during Rosh Hashanah. Only this past week we were reminded by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “we create life after death” when speaking about the power of Israeli and Jewish identity at the GA. We are living proof that evil doesn’t win, that evil cannot win. Yet, every time we permit political matters to divide us we dance with the devil.

“Darkness can only drive out darkness,” Dr. Martin Luther King once observed, “only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” And so, we must keep our lights burning brightly and our hearts focused on the real goal we’ve been given as Jews: To do better, to be better, to “act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” If we cannot support each other in this; if we cannot transcend our personal opinions regarding observance and politics; if we cannot see past the Kotel, BDS, Occupation, or Oslo then what good are we to one another? And if we cannot be good to one another, how can we ever be of any real good to the world?

Carly Pildis, an organizing and advocacy professional out of D.C. tweeted encouraging all Jews to… “Do something Jewish this week. Decide to light Havdallah candles. Study some Torah. Deepen (or start) your commitment to kasherut. Go to synagogue – JOIN a synagogue. Fight hate with love for the culture.” I would only add this: Reach out to the Jews you aren’t friends with. The right-wing Jews, the left-wing Jews; the observant Jews, the non-observant Jews; the American Jews, the Israeli Jews. Reach out to any or all of the Jews you’ve never been Jewish with and remind them that we’re in this together.

It isn’t enough that we recognize each other when we are under attack, only to attack each other afterwards. You can believe baseless hatred destroyed the second temple; you can believe lashon hara is evil; you can quote the Torah teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself”; whatever element of Jewish teaching you need to connect with in order to connect with another Jew, do it.

We aren’t many, but we are one. Three thousand years later we are still here, surviving and thriving. When our mourning for today’s victims is complete let’s once again toast together, “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!” And this time may the correct density of a matzoh ball be our greatest-and only-dispute.

About the Author
Susan L.M. Goldberg is a mother, writer and passionate Zionist with a Master’s degree in media studies. With her Israeli-American husband she stands at the crossroads of Israeli and Jewish American culture, politics and religious practice.
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