The depth of the Tree of Life tragedy hit home immediately. I knew within minutes that morning I would know some of the victims, having been to the synagogue for events for over 20 years and knowing friends who belonged to the three congregations. I spent that week with as many of the victims’ families as I could, who invited me to be a part of their mourning. And since that time I’ve tried to stay in touch and to see if there is anything they need.
It’s taken a toll personally. I’ve become more aware of what trauma does to you, how there are feelings of apathy that wash over you daily and more severe feelings of sadness that are extended and prolonged. I’ve tried to become reflective of seeing that in others, and am trying to do more to recognize that and to help those in need.
I became saturated with grief within the first day and it just became a part of me. It’s not something you would ever think about when running for an elected position. But having gone through it with families that have lost loved ones to gun violence, being in living rooms with mothers who would never see their sons come through the door again — Oct. 27 just brought all of that back in a very different way.
I think it was the level of evil that impacted me. It not only was the magnitude of the number of lives lost in a moment, but how and where and why. What happened went beyond the borders of the city of Pittsburgh and resonated around the world. The biggest factor weighing on me, again, was the emotions of the families. I just will never be able to lose the image of family members during those first 48 hours who would look to me with a look saying “tell me this isn’t really happening,” and having absolutely no power to be able to do anything to comfort them.
For the Jewish community, I believe that within Pittsburgh it has been embraced unlike at any time in this city’s history. There was a genuine outpouring of love that came from not only all faiths but all people. There was a true sense of “never again” means never again. And a true solidarity that was generations in the making that manifested itself and continues to do so. There is so much support and love that is there for our Jewish neighbors.
For Pittsburgh I think there is an overall understanding that we are forever etched into history, just as Dallas is with JFK and Memphis is with MLK, and that Pittsburgh will be forever known for this horrific incident. We have to be able to find a way to create a good from that, something that resonates with our stronger-than-steel image that allows us to say that although this happened on this day, and we’ll never forget the lives that were lost, we will search to find a positive outcome. As I write this, I don’t know what that will be. I do know we’re not quite there. We haven’t gotten past the mourning stage, and that will still take more time before we have an opportunity to begin the constructive stage.
In the end I am reassured that what I believe about this city — that it is a tough city with a big heart — was exemplified by the actions of so many people that day. It was unrehearsed and un-orchestrated. It was just a natural reaction that we had to be there for one another, and it continues to be seen in daily acts of individuals across Pittsburgh and the world. pjc
Bill Peduto is the mayor of Pittsburgh.