The collective grief and its aftermath of Oct. 27, 2018, has changed all of our lives, but it is also a story about survival, resilience and building strength and capacity among allies and knowing that for me, it is the only way to have hope.
There are two parts of this story for me. The first part is about proximity to grief — I live a block and a half from Tree of Life and for 10 days, the three-block radius around my house was an active crime scene. I didn’t personally know the victims, but knew of them and had various connections to them. I was not directly in mourning. The enormity of what my neighbors who had lost loved ones were going through was a weight upon my heart. The senseless cruelty of it all is something we all have to grapple with, but the direct pain was not mine to bear.
Much of the first week after is a blur to me now. I wanted to sing, I wanted to hug children and teens, I felt strong and clear and just a bit numb. I marched and led song as a part of the Bend the Arc action held to both come together with the larger Pittsburgh community, Jewish and non-, to pour out our love, anger and disbelief at both the heinous act and at governmental leadership that refused to call out the ideological white supremacy that motivated the shooter and so many others like him. I wanted to honor that we can all play multiple roles in the community and that some involve comforting and dealing with the immediate aftermath and some involve using our voices in bold ways to speak out about our Jewish values, which dictate that we do not stand idly by while our neighbors bleed. This time, it was our literal neighbors and I knew I could not remain silent.
I felt strong in my resolve and didn’t really have time to cry until the service that Rodman Street Baptist Temple held for Congregation New Light. The congregation’s ability to hold space for the shaken community is something I will never forget. It was not lost on me that I was standing among people who had lost loved ones to daily gun violence who literally held their arms out to people falling into them sobbing. I shouldn’t have looked up when I sang because I began to cry as well and could barely finish the song. Three angelic voices from within the congregation belonging to the daughters of Rabbi Jonathan Perlman and Beth Kissileff helped me finish the song, all the while smiling up at me. The whole experience was humbling and profound.
We need to build real relationships with other communities — relationships that go beyond press conferences and inviting others to join us for Shabbat. Those things are important and must continue, but for me the goal is to be both deeply rooted in our wonderfully diverse Jewish community and continuing to meet with other communities in our city in order to build collective power. As a member of Bend the Arc, I have been blessed this past year to be a part of that building. With anti-Semitism rising worldwide, we are all rightfully scared. I have found comfort and strength in knowing that pain is being seen by others and at the same time, bearing witness to their pain and feel that I can and must do both things simultaneously. We are working to build the kind of Pittsburgh and the kind of world we all want to raise our children in.
When I think of that time, a year later, I feel much the same way I did then. I see reporters descending on Wilkins and Shady Avenues, I see new signs for the commemorations replacing the old “Stronger than Hate” signs from a year ago, I protested downtown once again asking our president to call out hate speech and violent acts stemming from white nationalism. But it is also another beautiful fall day with the leaves starting to reach peak colors. It is another day we are all still standing here and declaring: Never again. pjc
Sara Stock Mayo is a member of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, and a spiritual leader.