Two years after the massacre at the Tree of Life building, here is something that has changed: Now, when I meet new people — which, admittedly, is rare these days because of the pandemic — and I say I am from Pittsburgh, the response is no longer guaranteed to be a sad pause followed by a heartfelt, “How is your community doing?”
I don’t think this means that the significance and trauma of the Oct. 27, 2018, attack is diminished in the minds of those who do not live in Pittsburgh, or that they don’t care. It’s just no longer necessarily the first thing that comes to mind.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. As part of Jewish Pittsburgh, the attack is something that I think about constantly. Every time I hear of another act of violent anti-Semitism, which is often, I am reminded of Oct. 27. Every time I pass by the Tree of life building I am reminded of Oct. 27. Every time I hear the name of one of the victims, or a family member of one of the victims, or one of the three congregations that were targeted, I am reminded of Oct. 27.
I have no reason to believe that will change for me anytime soon, or ever.
And I know I am not alone.
But what does it mean that others outside our community are beginning to identify us again apart from what happened here two years ago? Has the world “moved on,” whatever that means?
There has been too much pain for many of us in Jewish Pittsburgh to ever fully get past the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. But Jewish mourning practices do set a timeline for our grief. The most intense period of mourning is the first week of shiva, then a gradual resumption of participation in life’s normal activities that first month of sheloshim. After a year, we are encouraged and expected to resume life fully while setting apart a yearly remembrance, yahrzeit, for those we have lost.
As I write this, the date is Oct. 27, 2020. As the Chronicle goes to press today, I vividly remember the days and weeks immediately following the massacre and the stories that we covered then. I specifically recall writing that first surreal headline: “Eleven dead, six injured in anti-Semitic attack at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.”
Those first stories our paper ran were necessarily tragic, horrific and inconceivable.
In the year that followed, while so many of the stories were of hope, resilience and love, our paper was dominated by coverage of the aftermath of the shooting. It is, and will be, an event that continues to define our community, if not to the world at large, certainly to ourselves.
Two years later the Chronicle is still running stories about the events of Oct. 27, 2018, albeit less frequently. While we have not “moved on,” we are, as a community, moving forward.
Here is what hasn’t changed since our community was turned inside out two years ago: Jewish Pittsburgh remains strong and perseveres, even in the face of continuing challenges.
These days, those times when I am again asked, “How is your community doing?” I can honestly respond, “We are doing OK.”
May we go from strength to strength. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.