Jennifer Cohen, daughter of Mosaic Law Members Leslie and Marty Cohen, wrote a very moving, emotional reflection of the murder of eleven Jews at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA. Jen gave me permission to share her words with 450 people who attended Shabbat services at our congregation on the first Shabbat after the massacre. Jen, who is now 33 years old, went to Rio Americano High School and after graduation, attended UC Santa Cruz and graduated with a BA is Politics. She received her Master’s Degree in Education from UCLA. Currently she teaches at Augustus Hawkins High School in South Central Los Angeles.
Jen and her twin sister Liz were members of USY, they both attended Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA from age 9 and they participated on the USY European Pilgrimage. Her older sister Reina, was president of our USY Chapter and an officer on the USY Regional Board. Jen spent a semester of her junior year of college abroad at the University of Haifa. She was named at our synagogue and had her Bat Mitzvah at Mosaic Law. She also had a second Bat Mitzvah on the first Mosaic Law family trip to Israel in 1998 on Masada. She was a student in my tenth grade confirmation class. She is an extraordinary young woman and when I finished reading her words to the congregation, the silence was deafening. Her words resonated with every single person in attendance, from the 80 teenagers who were hosted by our congregation for a New Frontier USY Regional Kinnus, to the “wise years” members of our congregation. The following are her moving words. To hear her words which I shared, go to:
And fast-forward to 2:43:50. Here is the transcript of her words:
FROM JENNIFER COHEN
I know the people who died at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Saturday October 27th. Not personally, but after struggling through tears reading about the victims, I realized I know them. I know them through some unexplainable and deep connection to being a Jew. The victims were the Pearls’, the David Navis’, and the Mark Cohns’ of my synagogue. They were the, “get there early so there will be a Minyan congregants.” The ones that squeezed your cheeks and told you how much you’ve grown congregants. The bubbies and zaydes. They were the essential and ever decreasing connections to the Holocaust congregants. They were the founders of the American-Jewish community’s congregants. The Yiddish speaking congregants. The backbone of the community congregants. The elders.
Throughout my childhood and into the exploration of adulthood, there was no other place that had more of a formidable effect on my life than my synagogue. Some of my youngest memories are at my synagogue, learning Hebrew, the Amidah, Kaddish, Adon Olam. As a young person, the majority of my friends came from the connections I made through the Jewish community. I remember running through the halls, hanging out in the gift shop, pouring an inexcusable amount of sugar on my challah, holding those light sticks for end of Yom Kippur services and how proud my parents were when I was on the Bima for my Bat Mitzvah. My first taste of autonomy was at my synagogue. My parents would allow me and my sisters out of services to play and socialize with my friends. We would adventure throughout the synagogue property, sometimes venturing to the edges of the grounds where there was a small beautiful grove of palm trees. We would play truth or dare and giggle under the swaying palms. We were safe.
I surely would be a different person had the events that happened at Tree of Life Synagogue last weekend, occurred at my temple. To reimagine the space that held me, nurtured me, cultivated my Jewish identity and my adolescence as a scene of bloody scattered bodies creates a deep, unnatural pain that overwhelms my entire body. I name it as unnatural because it feels like genuine sadness and grief but also the intensity of anxiety, fear, revenge, anger, pride, guilt, helplessness… all at once. Those people who were murdered at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh were my people, my ancestors, my community.
This event is reflective of the United States today. The reality of anti-Semitism has been emboldened these last couple years along with racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, ethnocentrism, nationalism, the list goes on… It is our job to counter this with love. Tell your Jewish friends you love them, it’ll make a difference. In honor of the 11 victims of this unspeakable act of hate, along with ALL victims of hate, it is our job to continue to create safe places for people to worship, heal, learn, live and love. May the memories of
All be for a blessing.