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Stronger Than Hate

I consider the Jewish community of Pittsburgh home.

For three amazing years my family and I lived there. I was fortunate to serve as the community shlicha—emissary, at the local Jewish Federation. Pittsburgh is where our daughters went to one of the local Jewish day schools.

Pittsburgh welcomed us with open hearts, endless warmth, and embraced us as if we had always been members of this unbelievable Jewish community.

Wilkins Ave was our home address, a beautiful, quiet street, home of one of Pittsburgh’s great synagogues, Tree of Life.

Although so far from our home in Israel, it was incredibly reassuring to live facing this stately building, one that bore one of the most prominent Jewish phrases, Tree of Life, Eitz Chaim, in beautiful relief. It made us feel secure and surrounded by Jewish ambiance, among Jewish friends, part of a family. From time to time, we joined services at Tree of Life, always feeling that we belonged.

I remember the remarkable voice of the cantor leading our prayers, carving a beautiful path to the heavens where all chants and hopes dance together as one.

On Shabbat morning, these beautiful voices of joy and gratitude quickly turned to a shivering screaming, a deadly cry, a call for help, a moribund whisper.

I consider Jewish Pittsburgh as home, not only for the wonderful experience it offered, but for the transformational opportunity, it brought.

I learned who I am as a Jew in Pittsburgh. I discovered my mission in Pittsburgh. I fell in love with the Jewish world at large, and I became part of the long-lasting Jewish chain in Pittsburgh.

In Pittsburgh, I was fortunate to meet Jewish leaders who literarily changed the world, turned it into a better place for Jews and those of other faiths alike because they truly cared—and because they could.

In Pittsburgh I experienced the power of unity, I witnessed it firsthand when all members of the Jewish community stood side by side when rallying for Israel, advocating for Jews in former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Argentina, raising money for Darfur and other causes. Rabbis and community leaders imparted a true sense of one community, of am echad, that we are all One People. Members from all synagogues, different streams and affiliations, some with no affiliation at all, left their personal differences aside and expressed the strength of a united Jewish community. This mighty community blew me away time after time, where shard goals overcame differences of opinions.

This past Shabbat Pittsburgh’s Jewish community strength and unity wrapped its loving arms around its hurting members as they mourned together as one. This contagious force of solidarity crossed the borders of the Allegany River, reaching Jewish communities around the world, and so obviously here, in Israel.

Cold desert-like winds brought sadness and sorrow. We are all hurting together, feeling the burning ache, crying for the loss of innocents.

A small group of Israeli delegates led by Minister for Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, and including members of the Israeli Disaster Victim Identification team and other experts in emotional trauma, joined the community in Pittsburgh for a vigil on Sunday afternoon.

Within a few hours, a large online campaign collected messages from across Israel, sending the Jewish community of Pittsburgh our love and support. Israel’s weekly government cabinet meeting began with a minute of silence to honor the 11 victims. Different Israeli institutions lowered our flags to half-staff for the week. People from around the world have reached out to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh offering to help, share their sorrow, and send condolences. This is the power of love and unity. The power of solidarity—the power of the entire Jewish people—a nation that has been through so much together.

The ugly face of hatred and its devastating power took 11 innocent people, all killed for being Jews, all killed by worshipping in a sanctuary, a place meant to be safe. As so many have done before, too many, they paid the ultimate price for carrying with pride their Jewish heritage.

Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger. These 11 holy victims of a hate crime will forever be remembered and cherished for what they believed in, and for the lives they led.

Next Shabbat Jewish worshipers from across the world will join Pittsburgh synagogues to once again carve a path to heavens, cry and beg for these acts of hatred to stop, to disappear, to allow the great bright light of hope to shine, a beacon of love and acceptance.

My dear, dear friends in Pittsburgh, it is so hard being away from you this week. But I am not so far away. I am with you—as is the rest of the civil world. We all stand by you with great love and support, hand in hand, never letting go.

Leah Garber

Vice President | Director, JCC Israel Center

 

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