Pittsburgh: A Response

Tomorrow, it will be four weeks since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; four weeks since the incident termed by The Washington Post as “the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history”. That is, it is four Shabbatot since the death of eleven innocent people, murdered in the middle of their prayer, purely because they were Jewish.

A lot can happen in four weeks.

Inspired by the range of powerful reactions to the shooting that we saw on social media, we decided to collect some responses to the tragedy from bogrim across the movement, initially planning on publishing them here straight away. However, a lot can happen in four weeks. We decided to delay sharing these responses for two reasons: First, immediate responses to tragedy often contain a lot of raw emotion, something we felt it was important to preserve, sharing these thoughts not only in the initial aftermath, but also taking the time to reflect on them once the dust has settled. Second, the week following the shooting saw a movement in Jewish communities across the world, termed #ShowUpForShabbat. The idea was for people to make an extra effort to go to shul on the Shabbat after the shooting – coming together within our communities to remember those who were killed, and to show that these acts of hate will not deter us from being Jewish; that we refuse to be scared to practice our religion, both publicly and with pride. We felt a message as important as this should not be shared in the week following the tragedy and then never mentioned again; if something positive can come out of something so terrible, we wanted to preserve and prolong that thing for as long as possible. So, four weeks on, here is a collection of bogrim’s initial responses to the Pittsburgh shooting. Reflect, show up, remember.

— — — — — — — — — —

To finish a Shabbat with the devastating news of 11 Jews brutally murdered in Pittsburgh was a tragedy. It’s scary to think that we, a liberal and progressive society, can still house those who hate their neighbours on account of their race, religion, skin-colour, financial status, gender or sexuality. This was a horrific hate crime and we can only hope that a day will come when the view that ‘all Jews must die’ will be wiped from the earth. Antisemitism has been ignored and tolerated for too long. It’s time for that to change.

Daniel Ellis, Shevet Avichai

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As Shabbat ended here in England, we were shocked and overwhelmed by the news of the massacre in the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. While in certain aspects, the tragedy is part of a larger story of how human beings can hate “others” they don’t know, so deeply that they desire to murder them, this is also a part of the Jewish story, spanning the generations.

A story of Jews being killed while gathering to pray could well have been lifted out of a story from the time of the Holocaust 75 years ago, or from the destruction of the Jewish communities in France and Germany during the First Crusade, or from a whole list of other attacks. Just last night, I was learning about the death of Rabbi Yehuda Ben Baba, one of the Ten Martyrs, killed by the Romans for defying their decree that “semicha” (rabbinic ordination), was no longer to be practiced (Sanhedrin 14a).

What was particularly shocking was that this took place in America, a country that has likely been the safest and most welcoming for Jews in exile in our entire history.
I said that it just part of our story, because there is so much more: our ability to band together and pray for each other, to care deeply despite the gaps of distance, language and denomination. To learn and create, to work and improve this world. Just as Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava, upon being discovered by the Romans, ensured that those who he’d ordained would be able to escape and continue to teach our traditions, so too we must continue to act.

If you are wondering what you can do, please learn and pray (and give charity, do good deeds etc.) for those still in need of a recovery from the attack.

There is so much more to be done. Shira and I are around if you need to speak to someone.

Rav Aharon Herskovitz, Rav Shaliach

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I don’t really know how to say anything about this right now, but I think there’s a lot to be said for trying to put into words that which leaves you speechless.

I just saw a video of Oxford Jewish Society holding a vigil for all those who were killed in the mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. These are my friends, my former JSoc colleagues, and a hundred other people I have never met, coming together in collective loss; coming together to mourn and remember those whose lives were taken last Shabbat. I am proud of my friends for organising this event, for sharing their words, thoughts and prayers. But it is more than that – I am humbled. Humbled by the sheer number of people who turned up in support, humbled by the number of posts and comments I have seen online in the last few days. Because this has hit us all. The Jewish community is not one that is tied together by a shared location, but rather by a shared belief, a shared connection, a shared history. That is why when one arm is hit, half way across the world, the ripples of pain are felt throughout the body. We are all hurting.

Yes, I believe in the power of prayer. But this vigil, and all the others like it happening across the world, stand for so much more than that. This is the power of people coming together, not to make political points about religion or gun laws or anything else, but simply to be together. Yes to pray, but also to sing, to speak, to share each others’ pain and feel each others’ support.

To my Jewish friends, thank you for sharing your thoughts over the last few days; it means a lot to know we’re coming together in this time. To my friends who aren’t Jewish, thank you for showing your support; it means a lot to know we’re not in this alone.

Jemma Silvert, Shevet Eitan

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These etchings were collated by Eliot Cohen as part of a memorial booklet he compiled for the victims of the massacre. The following is an excerpt from his introduction to the booklet:

Memorials can be moments of consideration, breaches filled with agony, meditative spaces in which to dwell shocked, silent, angry.

Sometimes we are reassured by the warm presence of a fellow human body, standing by us in solidarity. Sometimes we are calmed by the deep resonances of the past calling out from afar with words that are as familiar as they are foreign. Sometimes we are moved by etchings of a hand that trembled as ours tremble, by images of a terror long since passed yet just as fearful as those pictures that we see today.

Solidarity is to be found not just in the declarations of those that are with us, but in the remnants of a sorrow, a hope, and a conviction that have been preserved over time.

In this booklet, our thoughts for the tragedy that occurred in Pittsburgh can be intertwined with the cries, prayers and visions of our received tradition from across centuries.

Psalms of the ancient Israelites sit with mournful laments uttered each year by Ashkenazi and Sefardi communities, and the timeless prayer to a compassionate God is encased in woodcuts from a generation destroyed in the flagrant outpour of hate, suspicion and violence.

May we be comforted by the living traces of the past, and may our pain and despair be uplifted by a thirst for an abundant, fragile life.

Eliot Cohen, Shevet Lahava

— — — — — — — — — —

טוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל בֵּית אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of
feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living shall take
it to their heart.

 

Joyce Fienberg, 75

Richard Gottfried, 65

Rose Mallinger, 97

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66

Cecil Rosenthal, 59

David Rosenthal, 54

Bernice Simon, 84

Sylvan Simon, 86

Daniel Stein, 71

Melvin Wax, 88

Irving Younger, 69

May their memory be a blessing

יהיה זכרם לברכה

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