News

ONGOING WOUNDS AND SHARED HEALING: ONE YEAR AFTER THE TREE OF LIFE MASSACRE

By Symone Saul

EDITORS NOTE: THIS ARTICLE REFERENCES GUN VIOLENCE 

How uplifting it is to see young love. Especially in a couple exactly twice your age, after 21 years of marriage. The way Miri and Jerry would coyly gawk at each other, like they were sharing intimate secrets while personally analyzing their connection to Judaism. 

That was the prompt we were given during our Yom Kippur discussion in September 2018: “Connection, Disconnection & Jewish Identity.” Though I had been dubious about sitting in this group circle with a dozen people I’ve been distantly familiar with since childhood, in the ‘Pavilion’ which was our chapel space at Tree of Life synagogue, I felt more connected to Congregation Dor Hadash and Miri and Jerry Rabinowitz than ever before. 

The next time I’d walk into that space, it would be to carry our Torah scrolls past the blood-soaked prayer books and carpets rolled up in a corner, surrounded by yellow crime scene tape from the Saturday October 27 massacre. But I don’t think about that day as much as I remember our Yom Kippur discussion the month before the shooting. It was the first time I saw the genuine humanity and love in Miri and Jerry, and it would be the last time I saw Jerry, before he was killed by someone who’d never seen him before, during the Saturday morning Torah study he and Dan Leger had created. 

Dan Leger is an inspiring person who led services at Dor Hadash many times, blew the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and moved others to join the Chevra Kadisha, a group of volunteers including Miri, Jerry, and himself, who perform burial rituals for the dead. Since nearly losing his life last October 27th, Dan has expressed nothing but gratitude to the incredible scope of communities who’ve reached out. 

The vigil that harsh Saturday evening following the mass shooting was horrifying. As an organizer and activist, former Dor Hadash member, and Squirrel Hill Jew, I was besieged by people I knew every 3 feet in the intersection of Forbes and Murray, while I frantically tried to plow my way to the center where my fellow mourning congregants stood. The Pittsburgh community came out in droves for us, I thought, doing their due diligence of genuine shock and performative outrage. Is this how my Black brothers and sisters felt when I screamed and cried with them at Antwon Rose II demonstrations: that feeling of being suffocated by a swarm of well-intentioned white folks co-opting their pain? 

I was grateful to everyone who mourned with us, but I felt something else, too. 

Resentment – that the masses of people and politicians proclaiming to be “Stronger Than Hate” weren’t also there for Antwon. Despair – that anti-semitism was being centered over the gunman’s White Nationalist agenda against immigrants, a tool that has since been weaponized to divide both Jews and non-Jews over issues like immigrant concentration camps and the occupation of Palestine. Frustration – that this massacre would instantly carve a deeper trench in the anti-gun lobby than the constant gun violence being suffered every day in our low-income neighborhoods. 

For Jews, the response to these discordant realities is gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness) and Dor Hadash members have always been thoroughly committed to the mission of social justice, especially for our immigrant and refugee neighbors. The congregation’s Immigrant and Refugee Committee has most recently been involved with Defund Hate, Casa San Jose projects and the Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which provides much needed transitional support to local immigrant communities. On September 15, the Committee hosted a Congolese refugee and other speakers for an informative public event. Members have also taken the lead in creating Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, and held a month of daily actions this past September. Instead of being intimidated by the massacre, survivors have driven harder for justice, not for Jews alone but for everyone. 

Non-Jews, as well, have been spreading gemilut hasadim. As Ron Glick, also a member of the Chevra Kadisha, recalled, “After the funeral for Jerry, I was ordering at Chipotle, still wearing my kippah (head covering). Behind me in line was a 1st responder. The woman in front of us told the cashier, ‘I’m paying for both of their orders.’ Performance of good deeds is a core component of Judeo- Christian values and this random act of kindness is a small illustration of the way Pittsburghers came together in the aftermath of the tragedy.” 

One year later, many of us still can’t quite access our grief. But my feelings of resentment, despair and frustration have been slowly transforming through everyone’s rededication to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and the vulnerability and humanity in sharing both love and pain. 

Dor Hadash (DorHadash.net) is a mixed-belief, religiously disorganized, Reconstructionist congregation where anyone is encouraged to attend and participate, no matter your identity. This article was written by Symone Saul and does not necessarily represent their views. 

NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 49 No. 8. October, 2019. All rights reserved.

Categories: News

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s