When you’re Jewish, the proverbial “six degrees of separation” seldom apply.
In reality, it’s often two degrees, or even one.
The missive below is from my wife’s best friend growing up (and still one of her closest friends), who lives in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, down the block from where 11 Jews were murdered in synagogue Saturday morning:
“To all of those who are not in my local community:
First, and most important, thank you all for your support, your messages, frequent check ins, words of love . . . it is all so greatly appreciated in these dark days.
While you may see a lot of this on the news (which I rarely watch and when I do check . . . it is the most surreal thing to see my friends, neighbors, Rabbis being interviewed, dear friends on the front page of the websites of international news and my neighborhood as center stage) I want to share with you my view of it. Here . . . it feels like a local tragedy . . . our community, our neighbors, but then I realize the world is watching.
Yesterday, a day filled with a lockdown while in synagogue services, SWAT teams, helicopters and police barriers all a block from my house . . . to be followed with all of your check ins and calls . . . with the shock and devastating news slowly coming out . . . we were emotionally exhausted. And then . . . in the evening, as the skies cried like our flowing tears . . . we stood in the heart of Squirrel Hill with our neighbors of all religions and nationalities..in a vigil organized by the high schoolers. It was a time to see everyone we know . . . to simply look at each other with no words to say and hug and cry. And to be led by those beautiful kids, who shouldn’t have to be dealing with this but are doing so with grace and power and inspiring us all. I hugged each one as tightly as I could . . . wanted to both protect and thank them.
. . . I didn’t sleep much last night . . . I needed to use this helpless energy to do something . . . so . . . I made pots of soup . . . there are going to be a lot of shiva visits this week and comforting to be given.
Today . . . we awaited the list of the dead. And little by little heard how we here, in our large and vibrant yet small and close knit community, were all connected to each somehow. An uncle of a friend, a close friend and doctor to many I know, the best of friend of my friend’s father, the mother (97 years old) of the guy who greets us at the JCC pool each summer, 2 developmentally disabled brothers who loved and practically lived at their synagogue (and were there when Lani was in preschool). It is all so personal and so deeply painful . . .
And then tonight . . . another gathering. At a huge hall that we filled, standing room only with hundreds outside. It was an interfaith gathering . . . filled with songs, words of hope, togetherness and love. Attended by Israeli officials, many national, state and local politicians and clergy of all faiths. Yes . . . this was a Jewish tragedy.. and our Jewish community knows and understands the history, fear and prevalence of anti-Semitism (though never like this on a local level) . This was a time for our feeling it as a Jewish community and also having our neighbors join us to denounce the hate and offer their support and love. A Baptist choir sang beautiful songs. The Muslim community has raised $70,000 to help the families and community and the head of the Islamic center even offered their help to protect synagogues (yes . . . this is what Pittsburgh is like . . . this is Mister Roger’s neighborhood and we really act this way!!)
With all of this comes the anger . . . and there is anger. A lot of it. And we are starting to deal with the anger with action. But, except for a few choice words to the politicians from the rabbi who saw 7 of his congregants gunned down in front of him, tonight it was about embracing each other . . . reminding ourselves that hate cannot win when there is so much love and support. So I offer you all this . . . love more . . . to those you know and love and to those you don’t know so well.
These two days, when the worst of the worst has happened . . . it has brought out the best in all of us . . . it can be this way always . . . even without the tragedy.
With love always,