Five years ago, on a Saturday morning in October, an antisemitic murderer stormed the Tree of Life building and savagely gunned down 11 innocent Jews: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Mel Wax and Irving Younger.
The world stood by our side and shared in our grief. Pittsburgh was “Stronger Than Hate” the lawn signs read. Statements of solidarity flooded in from local and national organizations representing other ethnic groups and religions.
While the caring and support could not relieve our sorrow, the outpouring of what looked like love was reassuring:
We were not alone. “Never again” meant never again.
Three weeks ago — on another fateful October Shabbat — Hamas terrorists stormed across the Gazan border into Israel, barbarically attacking civilians, including infants, young children, the elderly and the disabled. The horrors are unfathomable, inhuman in the truest sense of the word.
And for us, the attacks are profoundly personal. Most of us feel a deep devotion and connection to Israel and what it stands for, and many of us have loved ones living there. We are terrified for the hostages. We are concerned for the safety of the brave members of the Israeli military. We mourn for all those who were brutally murdered and weep for those who were maimed.
The terrorists’ acts of inconceivable inhumanity were committed against Jews in Israel. And they were committed against us.
The reaction of our neighbors, of the world, is different than it was after Oct. 27, 2018. While the majority of our state and national legislators have expressed their solidarity unequivocally and loudly, that support is not universally shared among our elected representatives. Some have expressed sympathy for the terrorists or spread vicious lies against Jews, outrageously blaming the victims for the unspeakable acts committed against them.
Some of our interfaith partners in Pittsburgh have reached out and spoken out, but not all. And while after Oct. 27, 2018, our friends and neighbors and colleagues, our sports teams and our local businesses were largely unified in pronouncing that we are “Stronger Together,” too many of them are silent now as our Jewish community is left aggrieved by what has happened and terrified of what could happen next.
It’s hard to know how best to react, what to do, in the face of such evil and confronted with the reality that not everyone we counted on has our back.
The vigils and rallies organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and other organizations have been lifelines in allowing us to come together in unity and strength so that we can hold each other up during this excruciatingly difficult time.
But there is more that we can do. In the words of writer Anne Lamott, “Now is the time for grassroots love.”
We can take a cue from those 11 beloved community members who we remember on their fifth yahrzeit, and always.
Small acts of lovingkindness can bring some light and goodness into this dark and desperate time.
Visiting the sick. Showing up to help make a minyan. Offering a ride to someone who can’t drive. Bringing food to the hungry. A warm hug. A smile.
The great spiritual leaders of the world’s religions, from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Mother Teresa, knew this to be true.
“Acts of kindness never die,” wrote the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return.”
He continued: “Whatever our life has been thus far, there is another chapter to be written, focused on being a blessing to others, sharing whatever gifts we have with those who have less, handing on our values across the generations, using our experience to help others come through difficult times of their own, doing something that has little to do with personal ambition and much to do with wanting to leave some legacy of kindness that made life better for at least someone on earth.”
Let us learn from Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Mel Wax and Irving Younger. Let us be their legacy, a legacy needed now more than ever. PJC