The Pittsburgh Massacre Remembered
Opening my computer, last Motza’ei Shabbos, I was looking for news from Sderot and fearful of any Israelis casualties in the ongoing conflict along the Gaza borders. I was shocked and taken back to learn of the tragic anti-Semitic violence in Pittsburgh. As a second generation, son of survivors, I was moved to tears by what I read and the images in my mind. On the wall in my den, there is a large painting of stormtroopers smashing the contents of a synagogue while Jewish worshipers are strewn, dead and alive among the pews. Then, I thought, here we are, 75 years later and the painting has come to life.
In contrast to what was then, today we are not alone. President Trump, who has a Jewish daughter and son-in-law and Jewish grandchildren, strongly spoke out about the anti-Semitism behind this tragedy. His words lessen to some degree our anxiety and bring some comfort to our community.
“This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us,” he said. It is an assault on humanity. It will require all of us working together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism, from our world. “The hearts of all Americans are filled with grief following the monstrous killing of Jewish Americans…” President Trump vowed that “those seeking their (Jewish) destruction, we will seek their (the perpetrator’s) destruction…”
He concluded by saying, very strongly, “Never Again!!!” And ordered American flags to fly at half-staff in memory of the victims. I thank our government and President Trump for responding forcefully to this evil outrage.
Even after this tragedy, we as American-Jews, have to be thankful and appreciate that we live in a country that has not only given us shelter but protection and respect. Just as our country has given to us, so have we given to our country, and will continue to do so, even in the face of evil, even in the face of millennial old anti-Semitism, as the Haggadah says, in every generation there arises evil that seeks to destroy us.
Some things have changed but the poison remains. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and plain Jew hatred is lurking in the corners. Social media gives expression to the darkest voices in our society. We must remain vigilant and appreciate the protections offered by our government and country.
We must come together as a community to support our synagogues and organizations who are on the front lines fighting the scourge of Jew-hatred, BDS, and anti-Zionism. We must demand the removal of anti-Semitic sites from Facebook and social media. We must teach love, not hate, we must return to civil discourse in both press, TV, online and cable news. We must respect each other for when all is said and done we are one nation, however different, under God.
Am Yisrael Chai, Never Again!!
Our Faith is Being Threatened
Last Shabbos, the first Shabbos after the tragic Pittsburgh mass shooting, a sense of fear and anger set a tone among many people in our close knit communities. Our leaders, Askanim, and Rabbonim responded to our anxiety by diligently securing ample police patrols, holding unity rallies, and assembling security posts by our Shuls and Yeshivas, which proved to be necessary after several incidents occurred in Williamsburg and Crown Heights last Shabbos. Additionally, there were people who simply grew angry at the thought of this unfortunate reality for Jewish Americans, many of whom recalled a bygone era when antisemitism of a similar nature was commonplace in New York City. The idea that the tragedy in Pittsburgh was all but an historical blemish in the story of American Jewry proved not to be true, rather it became a National realization of a much worse and daunting reality.
Our Jewish faith in America, in a nation founded on basic principles of religious tolerance and freedom, is once again being threatened by baseless animosity and hate. As a member of both the Brooklyn Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish communities, I can confidently say that the impact of this tragedy has had an equal effect on both ethnic circles. Additionally, the diversity of the attacks on synagogues and temples in the last week point to the fact that anti-Semites don’t distinguish between ethnic, cultural, or religiously observant variations of Jews. We must recognize our common ground, no matter where we come from or how we practice, because an antisemitic attack on one community is truly an attack on all communities.
The Kindness of Strangers
I’ve been following your paper’s coverage of the Pittsburgh tragedy, and after seeing the name of the dead in your article “Victims’ Names Released in Deadliest Anti-Semitic Attack in US History,” I started to really think about a story I read that came out of the weekend.
One of the men who was killed at the synagogue during last Shabbat always stood for the Mourner’s Kaddish. When asked why, he said it was because he didn’t really have a family of his own that would be able to stand for kaddish one day when he’s gone, so he would always stand for those for whom he knew nobody else would stand.
I was raised reform, and we actually all always stood up for the Mourner’s Kaddish, but I started to follow the more typical norms as I frequented more conservative and renewal services. I felt sad when I lost grandparents but left the standing to my remaining elders. I did, in fact, stand at least once for my mom’s deceased dad because nobody else who was with me would have, and that’s a gesture my mom really appreciated when she found out about it.
After this weekend, I want to always stand for the Mourner’s Kaddish. I’ve really stopped to think about just how many people are gone and don’t have a single living soul who carries on their memories. To do the kaddish, knowing that some people left behind no relatives, is a small but meaningful mitzvah.
I’m very well aware of the anti-Semitism that’s always been beneath the surface and is now rising again. If anything, I expected an ugly attack like Pittsburgh to happen and expect even more violence. I didn’t feel fear last weekend though. I felt a great sense of hurt and sadness. So much of what I saw was so recognizable from my own Jewish experiences. It reminded me of how important Judaism has been in my life, how many people who hardly even knew me lent me an invaluable helping hand to get me to where I am today, just because I was Jewish.
The people who laid dead in that synagogue wanted to do all they could to help those in need. Amidst the pain, I tried my best to focus on the good, and what I looked at was how one reason it hurts so badly is because I’m so proud of the values and culture we have. This was an attack that should outrage everyone, and it’s been encouraging to see the outpouring across the nation, spanning every type of culture and ethnicity imaginable.
I will always stand for the kaddish now because I want to always remember how important Judaism is and how we need to always be thinking about each other. We will always be stronger together, forming a bond that can be temporarily weakened but never broken by the forced of hate.
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