My Facebook memories for today just popped up and instantly brought me to tears. For me, living in Pittsburgh, memories of October 27th aren’t about weddings or vacations, they don’t include random witticisms or memes. What they include is a post from me saying “To all our family and friends who I haven’t talked to yet please know that we are safe, just shaken and saddened by this horrifying tragic act of terrorism.”
That morning I was home, getting dressed to go to a bar mitzvah. My husband, who at the time was the Executive Director of a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, came flying into the house. He told me that there was an active shooter at the Tree of Life (a half mile from my house) and that everyone was on lockdown. He grabbed his phone and ran back out. At this moment I had no idea that anyone had even been injured, let alone killed. As I stood processing this information, our phone rang, and the caller ID displayed an Israel number, not something that happens on Shabbat. Four of our sons served in the IDF as lone soldiers and at the time we had one in active duty. When the phone rang all I could think was ‘how could something bad have happened in Israel too, are my kids ok?’ I answered with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and then heard ‘Ma, are you and Abba ok?’
I can’t begin to explain the mix of emotions I had at that point. I didn’t comprehend that the whole world already knew what was happening right down the block, things we didn’t even know yet, about the first responders, about the deaths……
I was relieved and grateful that my kids were fine. Then the calls, texts and messages started coming in from friends and family all over the world wanting to make sure we were ok. We were, but we weren’t.
In 2018 both my husband and I worked for local Jewish organizations. The next few weeks passed in an exhausting blur of calls and emails from reporters trying to talk to everyone, and from supporters wanting to help. We didn’t watch the news or scroll through Facebook, we didn’t need to, it was all happening on our doorstep. A drop-in counseling center was set up at the JCC, and the worldwide Jewish community, as well as those who support us, flooded our city with help. Communities that had experienced mass shootings, of which there are far, far too many, came to grieve with us.
Here we are, four years later. Every Yizkor service I attend now includes a special prayer for the Kiddoshim killed at Tree of Life. With the rise of antisemitism worldwide I can tell you that in Pittsburgh every Jewish institution now has an armed guard standing outside its doors. Sometimes we are advised to carry our cell phones on Shabbat because there are reports of antisemitic activity in our area. I don’t wear my Star of David necklace and my husband covers his kippah with a baseball cap. Public figures and political candidates spewing hatred against Jews are not only given a platform, but they are also commended by some for their views.
For those who say being anti-Israel isn’t antisemitic I vehemently say, YOU ARE WRONG. This next year we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel. A homeland and a refuge for all Jews. Thank G-d we have it, our safe place in the world, protected by the best army in the world because they truly know what it means to need this refuge.
May the memory of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil & David Rosenthal, Bernice & Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger be for a blessing and may the world become a safer place for all. Until that happens thank G-d we have Israel.