One week after 50 people silently demonstrated on the corner of Forbes and Murray avenues another 50 returned.
But instead of quietly calling attention to the brutal capture of an estimated 230 individuals — like they did the week before — community members spent Oct. 29 shouting, singing and thrusting photographs into the evening air. Taped to cardboard, printed on paper and emblazoned on banners were images of those taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7.
One man, standing feet from the Squirrel Hill intersection, held a photograph of a toddler beneath the word “kidnapped.” To the man’s left, a child raised a sign reading “Pray for our hostages.”
Chants of “Bring them home” were met by blasted horns from passing drivers signaling agreement with the crowd.
“This will be the last one, hopefully,” organizer Merav Amos said of Sunday’s gathering. “Hopefully, everyone is going to be released and we won’t have to come here again.”
Coupling Amos’ optimism is her pragmatism. In the days before the demonstration, she feverishly rallied community members to stand together, leverage connections and call attention to a “humanitarian” crisis.
“We need to help these people,” she said. “They’re innocent and they were kidnapped from their homes. I don’t know in what world it’s acceptable that people could be abducted from their homes. Women? Children? Old people? Just plain civilians? Imagine if it would have happened here. This is terrible and we should not tolerate this, no matter what.”
Alla Puchinsky held back tears while explaining the reason for attending the demonstration.
“My sister is in Ashdod. My cousin is in Ashkelon. I was in Israel many times. What’s going on is absolutely unbelievable,” she said.
Puchinsky left Belarus for Pittsburgh in 1994. Her sister moved to Israel around the same time.
“We came from antisemitism,” she said. “I have seven grandchildren. I can’t sleep. Who knows how they can live in such a world?”
Margarita Lemkov stood beside Puchinsky and cited an Oct. 29 news report about an antisemitic crowd storming a tarmac in Dagestan, Russia. Hundreds of people entered the airport, circled a plane arriving from Israel and tried to overturn a police car, the Associated Press reported.
Over the weekend, members of a mob not only attacked the Russian airport and waved signs reading “We are against Jewish refugees,” but “besieged a hotel in search of Jewish guests,” according to The Guardian.
“Our hearts are broken,” Lemkov said.
Cher Kotovsky came to the corner of Forbes and Murray avenues to “support the state of Israel,” she said.
What’s occurring there now is “a no-win situation,” she continued. “I have no answers. I just think people should put more signs outside of their home, in solidarity, and we should not be afraid.”
Kotovsky noted that yard signs demonstrating support for Israel were vandalized in Squirrel Hill last week.
“If signs are defiled, then we should put them up again,” she said.
Amos also mentioned the defaced markers and graffitied wall outside Pittsburgh Allderdice High School.
“I have a daughter that goes to Allderdice,” she said. “It’s hard. But we need to be strong about this. We need to make our point, and we need to explain that this issue, about the kidnapped people, is unacceptable.”
Amos said that remembering the estimated 230 people who were horrifically abducted strengthens the hostages’ families.
“They’re feeling very much alone,” she said.
Peacefully calling attention to an issue, while standing on a street corner, “also shows our local government here in Pennsylvania, and all the representatives, that this is something that is important and that they should help us,” she added.
Amitai Bin-Nun attended the group’s first gathering on Oct. 22.
Standing silently with others last week was a “really helpful way to be able to express my feelings, all of our feelings, that kidnapped children belong home, that kidnapped parents belong home, that kidnapped grandparents belong home,” he said.
Following the first demonstration, Bin-Nun reached out to Amos. He asked if he could spread the word to local congregations and political leaders. Amos agreed. Hours before the Oct. 29 meetup, congregations sent messages encouraging members to show up on the corner of Forbes and Murray.
Moments after the scheduled 5 p.m. start, Bin-Nun and Amos’ efforts were apparent. Julie Paris, a regional director of StandWithUs, addressed the crowd with a megaphone; Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel of the Aleph Institute wrapped tefillin on attendees. A Pittsburgh police officer stood guard.
The energetic crowd quieted to sing “Hatikvah” in unison.
Nearly an hour after the event began, most attendees had dispersed. Amos, Bin-Nun and several demonstrators remained. A couple, en route to dinner, patiently stopped and showed support. Earlier in the week, the man had called national attention to the cause by displaying photographs of the hostages outside his office. Now, standing beside the event’s organizers while wearing his iconic hoodie and shorts, Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman deflected praise.
“People are saying thank you for the support, and it’s very nice, but I should never be thanked for doing the right thing,” Fetterman told the Chronicle. “Every last member of Congress should have that out in front of their offices.”
Fetterman said he’s “met with the victims and their families” and that people should know about the “barbarism and the horror of what Hamas has done.”
“I am appalled that the U.N. cannot even issue a resolution to condemn Hamas, or even mention Hamas. Let’s be very clear,” he said. “It’s because of Hamas. Every last death is because of that evil.”
Between Squirrel Hill street corners and congressional offices in Washington D.C. is shared responsibility regarding the hostages, he said.
“We must bring every last one of them home.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.