“These are people who were killed because they were Jewish, they are bodies of holy martyrs.”
—Rabbi Daniel Wasserman
Words do not come. A leaden ball occupies my lower half; a river of ice runs within. My hometown community suffered a loss that is larger than the holy souls whose lives were ripped from them as they worshipped. This wasn’t supposed to happen here, not here, in America. But this is not about me; rather, it is about my people, my town, my tribe, my family. It’s personal.
Despite the all-too-familiar terror attacks in Israel—Ari Fuld, Ziv Hajbi, and Kim Levengrond Yehezkel murdered within the past six weeks; despite the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher murders in France; despite the shooting attacks at Jewish Community Centers—Los Angeles and Overland Park, Kansas; despite attacks on Jews individually and collectively worldwide, this was not supposed to happen here. Certainly not in my town, on the streets where I walked, in a shul (synagogue) where I have been, the spiritual home of many people who I know. It’s not about me but it’s personal.
The synagogue shooting on Saturday, October 27th occurred on the 18th of the “bitter” month of Cheshvan, or MarCheshvan on the Jewish calendar. The month is characterized as being bitter because it has no holidays. Now it has 11 more yahrzeits, death anniversaries. A madman targeted Jews, came into our place of worship, and murdered 11 people, wounded 6 more, including brave responders from the Pittsburgh Police.
My uncle, who was a hidden child in Holland during the Holocaust said, “It feels a bit [like] when I was 7 or 8 and people disappeared and you did not know whether [they were] picked up or in hiding or what.” You simply did not know.
We awaited the names of the deceased, and as they were released on Sunday morning, we sighed and cried whether we knew them or not. Our family members were on that list; everyone I know knows someone who knew someone…. It’s not about me but it’s personal.
The first of the funerals are today. It is Jewish custom to bury the dead as soon as possible, but it was not possible in this situation; the funerals will continue through the week. I know the pain of the waiting—it is tense and confusing to those of us accustomed to quick burial. We Jews do not have wakes, our dead do not lie in front of us. Not usually, but this situation is beyond unusual. People are planning to arrive from all over to mourn with the bereaved families. However, my synagogue emailed a funeral notice with a request that only close friends and family attend shiva (the seven-day period after burial where people visit the bereaved to offer condolences and support). We all want to mourn together but we must respect the privacy of the families.
At the graveside, the kaddish prayer will be recited by the mourners. “Glorified and sanctified be G-d’s great name throughout the world…” it starts. The ending is a call for peace, “May He Who makes peace in His heavens make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.” Kaddish affirms the existence of a Creator and extolls Him. No mention of death or loss are contained in the ancient Aramaic words. It has always given me pause: in the moment of our deepest grief we raise our voices to G-d, to Whom else can we turn?
I’m having a hard time not reading the news, like I’ll hear something new, some detail that will help make sense of the shootings. We’re all talking about it: Pittsburgh, gun control, mental health; hate sites; online forums; Israel; safety; what to do. Glued to the radio, the streaming media, video clips, Facebook—I must consciously disconnect. My sense of safety and surety shivers in horror. What next? How? The questions keep coming. It’s not about me but it’s personal.
I pledge to make my corner of the world a place where light rules, and not the darkness. Do a mitzvah. Do many mitzvahs. I am Pittsburgh, but more so, I am a Jew. Let light reign.
- Joyce Fienberg, 75
- Richard Gottfried, 65
- Rose Mallinger, 97
- Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
- brothers Cecil, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54
- husband and wife, Sylvan, 86, and Bernice Simon, 84
- Daniel Stein, 71
- Melvin Wax, 88
- Irving Younger, 69
They were murdered for the crime of being Jews. It’s not about me but it’s personal. I’m a Jew.
Hashem yinkom damam, “May G-d avenge their blood.”