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Posts tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

New Zealand

New Zealand Flag

New Zealand Flag, by Yortw via Flickr CC-BY 2.0

Evil took the spotlight again last week.

A gunman violated the distant, small, quiet country of New Zealand and murdered 49 people engaged in worship. Another soul has died since then, raising the death toll to 50. Many others were hospitalized. The gunman “live-streamed,” i.e. filmed and broadcast, his activities online via Facebook. He prepared for death, wearing a helmet outfitted with a camera and a bulletproof vest.  That miscreant went into mosques with the intent to kill. Tragically he succeeded.

I cannot find words to write. I sit stilled.

I deplore this act of heinous evil, perpetrated by one actor, leaving desolate so many families, a country, and a faith community. Massacred. My heart reaches out to the families, the ones left behind. My sympathy goes to New Zealand which I thought of more so as a tranquil backwater. They have sadly joined the front-page suffering of the world elsewhere.

Only a short while ago my hometown community, Pittsburgh, suffered such a blow. Prayers were offered around the world. We feel with you, our human brothers and sisters. Today we are not Muslim, or Christian, or Jew but people, all formed in the image of G-d. When I learned the news, I cried. It resonated too closely.

What is it about the lone actor that tugs at me and pulls me down into the darkness? So I ask: am I hypocritical? Or numb? Sometimes I wonder if I am allowed to feel this level of grief because I hear today’s news of ongoing violence and tragedies elsewhere… and react very little, feel much less sorrow.

  • 59 homicides in the City of Baltimore have been reported to date in 2019.(1)
  • “Syria’s war entered its ninth year on Friday,” killing a half million people, displacing more than 6 million, and causing more than 5 million to flee the country. (2)
  • Today, “[d]ozens of Uighur and Han Chinese civilians were killed or hurt” by a knife-wielding gang who attacked a police station in China’s Xinjiang region.(3)
  • “At least 39 people had died” in attacks during elections in Nigeria in February 2019. (4)
  • “20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines”(5)

The Charlie Hebdo slaughter evoked my tears. The uncertainty of whereabouts and the unravelling of the murders of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, the three boys who were kidnapped and slain by Hamas terrorists in 2014 gripped at my heart.(6) The rape and murder of Israeli teen, Ori Ansbacher, by a Palestinian seated me, stunned.(7) I’m aware that I’m listing tragedies perpetrated on Jews here. They are my family. It’s personal.

Evil

Evil (Tong Churchyard), by Tim Allen via Flickr CC-BY 2.0

That doesn’t make me immune to the suffering of others, however. No matter how I relate that I am numb, unfeeling, my soul diminishes daily with each attack.

Maybe the 3,212 of Baltimore’s murders recorded to date since 2007, mass slaughter, and war casualties don’t affect me because they are BIG and DISTANT. Growing up in the Vietnam War era, we watched nightly newscasts at the dinner table, the daily body count tallied on the small black and white television screen parked at the end of the table. I didn’t know where Hue was, but the Tet Offensive was not just history; it was background reality.

I pray that evil does not become the background reality that today’s children grow up with. I pray that New Zealand pulls through. Most of all, I pray that evil will be vanquished from this earth.


1. Baltimore HomicidesThe Baltimore Sun, retrieved 18 March 2019.
2. FACTBOX-Nine facts about Syria as fresh violence marks ninth year of war, 15 March 2019.
3. China Xinjiang: Violence ‘kills or injures dozens’, 30 July 2014.
4. Nigeria Votes for Second Day in Election Marred by Deadly Violence, 25 February 2019.
5. 20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines, updated 17 March 2019.
6. Mastermind of Teens’ Murders Given 3 Life Sentences, 1 June 2015.
7. Palestinian charged with rape and murder of Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher, 7 March 2019.

Kaddish

“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.

Pittsburgh: Stronger than hate

Pittsburgh: Stronger than hate

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.”

Can’t Go Back Home

This odd sculpture on the side of an otherwise nondescript apartment building.

“Bacchus/Dionysus” Apartments, Regent Square. © Just Having Fun

Back home. All memories seem bright until you get there:

Pittsburgh, my home, isn’t home anymore. Buildings are shabbier, streets more narrow, stores smaller, pavements more broken up, lawns weedier, properties needier. Store facades lack pizzazz, fashions seem grayer, people walk bent over, and hairstyles belong to the 1980s. Indeed, mullets haven’t died out there, and jagoffs still crowd the Parkway.

I don’t live there anymore. Home livens my dreams, though. I spent so much of my life there; it formed subterranean parts of me. But now I live in another place, sipping another culture, another state of mind.

“Home” speaks my vernacular. Home wears the gown of happy memory. Home sidewalks remember my skinned knees. Home parks have water fountains where I slurped away my thirst. Home benches remember nights I sat there looking across the river at the shining city. Home playgrounds hold my childhood.

Duquesne Incline from Carson Street

Duquesne Incline from Carson Street. Image: Dan Buczynski, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Away: We’re away from the inevitable aging, concrete crumbling, roadways growing potholes. We forget the annoyances of overflowing sewers, flooding, and road closures. Traffic cones move from site to site, an ever present landscape feature, but we lose our way among the newly created maze—new to our minds at least. “Remember where that big pothole was that they didn’t fix for a couple’a years?” We dodged it every time, and now just ride over the smooth street, the pothole a trouble only in the past.

Local politics, local concerns, don’t interest me because I’m not a part of it anymore. The hallmarks of the community, saying “yinz” and wearing shirts emblazoned with Steelers or Pirates logos, color the culture. Familiar local landmarks take on an importance they never shone with when I lived there. Pointing to repurposed buildings we remember aloud, “That’s where Isaly’s used to be;” or looking toward South Side, “J&L used to cover that entire shore of the river, before the Cheesecake Factory.”

Taylor Allderdice High School, Aerial View, circa 1930-1945 approx.

Taylor Allderdice High School, Aerial View, circa 1930-1945 approx. Image: Boston Public Library collection, CC BY-NC/2.0

I can’t go back home. The people aren’t there anymore. The “kids” I hung out with are spread across the map. They’re getting ready for retirement and buying condos in Florida. My high school’s awe-inspiring facade hides behind a blocky addition; my university has new buildings across campus. Downtown features newer, brighter buildings. Even the subway stretches to new distances, under the Allegheny River to the North Side and the stadium.

This is not MY Home anymore, but it is an extension of it—another dimension, say. If I lived there still, I would not notice the changes in the ways I do now. I would be a part of the rerouted traffic, commuting to my job without comment, or grumbing about PennDOT like everyone else. Local problems would not seem so exotic or notable the hundredth time we encountered them.

I can’t go back home, but I can look at it again like a many-faceted jewel—preserved in a museum showcase, or worn proudly on my finger—and see the lights glinting from within.

 

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