Feeling safe while finding togetherness
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OpinionGuest Columnist

Feeling safe while finding togetherness

"Our vigilance is not the same as fear. The rise in antisemitism must not make us afraid and let Jewish Pittsburgh splinter into islands of self-centered anxiety."

More than 400 people attended the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's "Stand Against Antisemitism" rally at the City County Building in June, 2021. (Photo by David Rullo)
More than 400 people attended the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's "Stand Against Antisemitism" rally at the City County Building in June, 2021. (Photo by David Rullo)

On Saturday, Jan. 15, we witnessed yet another attack on another synagogue in another state. Violent attacks on Jews have become sadly commonplace, but I feel every single one viscerally. For those in any way connected to the attack on three Pittsburgh synagogues, Jan. 15 awakened such echoes.

No matter how we feel, we cannot allow the ongoing cycle of violence, combined with the periodic isolation that life in a pandemic requires, to change the nature of our beloved Jewish community.

The rise in antisemitism — whether physical violence, verbal abuse or online attack — absolutely gives us reason to increase vigilance. For this reason the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has been providing more resources than ever to increase community security. The Federation offers security training and has invested in building safety and crisis-communication improvements throughout Jewish Pittsburgh.

Our vigilance is not the same as fear. The rise in antisemitism must not make us afraid and let Jewish Pittsburgh splinter into islands of self-centered anxiety.

The culture of Jewish Pittsburgh has always been a culture of togetherness — of “showing up.” We Pittsburghers attend formal programs and religious services. Throughout our Jewish lives, we connect to the diversity of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community by socializing with each other, disregarding our different backgrounds.

It’s no wonder that Pittsburgh has given the word “nebby” a unique definition: caring with enough love to be a little nosy.

If you have lived outside Greater Pittsburgh, you know how special Jewish Pittsburgh is. In some other American cities, people simply do not gather in large numbers for Jewish events. Some other communities are divided along ideological, religious or cultural lines.

After the violent attack against Jews in Colleyville and while COVID-19 periodically cancels in-person gatherings, I worry that we will forget what makes Jewish Pittsburgh unique and wonderful: our culture of togetherness.

In short, I worry that fear will overcome solidarity.

What can we do in response? First, each of us can nurture solidarity by helping the community be safe and, just as important, helping the community feel safe.

Learn and follow the safety procedures in place at Jewish community buildings, and politely request that others do the same. Attend one of the training classes that Jewish Federation’s security team has already provided to more than 17,000 people. Report suspicious or antisemitic activities by filing an incident report through the Jewish Federation website, jewishpgh.org. Do this even if you think the activities do not warrant police notice; a report to the Jewish Federation allows security professionals to identify threat trends and act proactively.

Second, because a community is a web of relationships, contribute to community by giving others the benefit of knowing you. Find a group within our Jewish community that fits your interests. The past 10 years have brought amazing growth in the range of opportunities to engage in Jewish life. If you seek to live your Jewish tradition through social justice, keeping kosher, meeting Jews of color; whether you want to focus on LGBTQ+ events, have just had a baby, or live in the suburbs — Jewish Pittsburgh has a place where you can be with people like you or who are different from you. The important thing is to participate.

Our Jewish agencies and synagogues have adapted to pandemic reality by offering socially distanced events and activities that are virtual, in-person or both. Our organizations are offering more outdoor gatherings. As you engage in activities, know that Jewish community security, though sometimes hidden, is working better than ever to protect you. Feel confident about your safety as you live your life in a caring community.

Let’s figure out what each of us can do to find togetherness the rest of this year. Trust that the security professionals, Jewish agency staff, supportive law enforcement representatives and fellow community members are doing their best to keep you safe. If you are able and available, come out and participate in Jewish life in whatever way suits you. Together let us show the world the strength of the Pittsburgh Jewish community. PJC

Jeffrey Finkelstein is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

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