By Carolyn Pallof
Growing up only twenty minutes from the center of the city of Pittsburgh, I was always immersed in the steel town culture. Sundays were reserved for Steeler games; hot summer days were celebrated with trips to Kennywood Park, and perogies always had a place on my dinner plate.
Even though we may live different lives, we share these niche memories and experiences. It’s things like this that bring us together. Last fall, our lives changed when something happened that no Pittsburgher will ever forget. The world watched and cried along with us as our brothers’ and sisters’ lives were taken by the hands of hatred. We took care of their families and provided for their synagogues; we dealt with our losses by demanding change. This community of family took a stand against the highest powers to fight for our rights; for their rights. Whether we were of a different race, a different creed, or a different orientation, they were family and we mourned for them as a family.
On the morning of Saturday, October 27th, I remember lying comfortably on a firm hotel bed in Athens, Ohio. Suzie was in the bathroom doing her morning ablutions and David was trying to get Dillon and me up and moving. While in the bathroom, Suzie received a phone call from a friend back in Pittsburgh. I can now only imagine the panic and confusion evident in the voice on the other end. Suzie was screaming for us behind a closed door to turn on the television
The sound of Suzie’s tears and the commiserating voices of television reporters seemed to grow louder and louder. I could feel the rapid pace of my heartbeat in my fingertips; my eardrums pounded louder than hail on a tin roof. I watched in horror as the television displayed the same footage over and over again, images I’ll never forget. Videos of police officers in riot gear running up Wilkins Avenue, as horrified citizens stood on the tree-lined sidewalks in their pajamas.
I was too shocked to even cry, refreshing my social media feeds, desperate for any information. Anything other than the videos of sheer terror unfolding back home. I was the only Catholic in the room, but I was not the only Pittsburgher. My pain ran deep for my city, but as Jews who lived and worshipped in Squirrel Hill,my companions’ pain ran deeper.
That night, after visiting friends in Athens, we were going to stay at the family cabin closer to Pittsburgh, but we never made it. The long drive didn’t seem so bad, but for one drunk and miserable Dillon, it would only take a few miles for him to become undone.
I remember taking a hot shower before going to bed. As I stood there, I stared at the empty, colorless void of the Best Western bathtub. I was so far away from home, but I wasn’t really sure what home was anymore. What would it be like when I got back? What would I feel when we drove through the Fort Pitt Tunnel and saw the city expanse? I have more memories of Squirrel Hill than I can even begin to remember, but it felt like all of that was from another time that I will never get back.
The only memory that really stuck with me that day was that of Dillon in the car on our way out of Athens. He had put on some music to drown out his thoughts. With his head on the back of the seat in front of him, as he cried, he also sang. It was quiet and under his breath, but loud enough for me to hear. I often struggle with remembering all of the events of that weekend, but this moment is one I’ll never forget. Dillon’s voice, soft and broken, yet full of raw emotion as he sang.
“Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad…”
Hear oh Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One.
Carolyn Pallof is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Humanities and Creative Writing. A Pittsburgh native, she grew up in and around the Squirrel Hill area.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 49 No. 8. October, 2019. All rights reserved.