Prior to experiencing a communitywide service where more than 2,300 attendees agitated for peace and the eradication of anti-Semitism, out-of-town guests of the Steel City remarked on their decisions to attend — in some cases, via a cross-country commute — and the subsequent discoveries made here.
“We arrived this afternoon from New York” and then went to visit “a local Pittsburgh couple with connections to New York,” said Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA Federation of New York. “I am amazed by how tight knit this Jewish community is. We’ve been talking to local Pittsburgh Jewish families and literally everyone knows everyone. This is not a six degrees of separation community; this is a one degree of separation community. It’s really incredible.”
Joining Goldstein on the journey were seven other travelers.
We have “a group of eight people, four of whom grew up in Pittsburgh and now live in New York, plus our Federation leadership. They say we all have a responsibility to each other. It’s times like this we really feel it,” said Goldstein. “An attack on the Jewish community of Pittsburgh is an attack on all of us, and as the largest Jewish community in the United States, we wanted to be here to express our solidarity with the community.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy. We are heartbroken for your loss and we pray that these kinds of events just don’t recur.”
Erika Rudin-Luria, incoming president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, arrived in Pittsburgh shortly before the Sunday evening vigil.
“We’re here just to lend emotional support to the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” she said. “We’re all heartbroken by the tragedy and we want to support the community.”
Rudin-Luria was reluctant to estimate how many Clevelanders were coming, but noted “car-fulls” on their way.
“It’s such a short drive and so many people in Cleveland have such close connections to Pittsburgh and family in Pittsburgh that I think it hits particularly very close to home,” she explained. “The feeling very much is if it could be in Pittsburgh it could be in Cleveland.”
She had a message she was intent on bringing back to her city.
“Hatred and ignorance breed violence, and we have to stand together and not let politics divide us against hatred, and bigotry and anti-Semitism,” said Rudin-Luria.
“We have to be vigilant about our own community’s security and the security of the Jewish communities around the world. This is unfortunately a horrible reminder.”
Local leaders were impressed by the outpouring of support.
“I think tonight it shows the strength in the community, and what it all means, and how precious a life is and how we all take it sacredly,” said Corey O’Connor, a member of City Council representing parts of Squirrel Hill. “I think that’s what this community is all about, that we’re not afraid. We’re not going to be terrified, we are not going to run and hide. We are going to fight this together.”
Erika Strassburger, a fellow City Council member, agreed.
“The leaders of the City of Pittsburgh and the worldwide community are here for the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” she said. “If we can be a shoulder to cry on or if we can provide support, prayers or anything, we are here. We are here for resources and here for support, moral and otherwise.”
O’Connor urged everyone to continue the spirit of goodwill in the days and weeks ahead.
“I have never seen so many people hug each other in Squirrel Hill, but that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s a huge family and we’re all part of it.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.