The other side of hate
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OpinionGuest columnist

The other side of hate

The Stronger than Hate shirt is more than a shirt.

Ray Werner
Stronger than hate t-shirts and memorabilia. (Photo by David Rullo)
Stronger than hate t-shirts and memorabilia. (Photo by David Rullo)

Certain shirts you wear for certain occasions.

After the Tree of Life tragedy, as you know, the worst antisemitic attack in America’s history, I bought this long-sleeved Stronger than Hate pullover in the gift shop at Rodef Shalom. A lot of us started wearing them. I bought a few more at Yinzer’s in The Strip for our kids and grandchildren — to give support, in a small way, to our neighboring Jewish community.

When we travel to our condo in North Carolina and visit relatives in Charleston, South Carolina, I wear it to say, “I’m from Pittsburgh, I support my Jewish friends and I’m a Steelers fan.”

(This was the one and only time in the franchise’s history that the Rooney family allowed their logo to be altered, for any reason. Another piece of the pride. Another reason to wear the shirt.)

Wearing it gets me into nice conversations walking the beach or eating out. They usually begin with, “Hey, I like your shirt.” Which is an opening to say I’m from Pittsburgh and live a short walk from Tree of Life, tell them about our St. Bede choir and the hymns we sang that Sunday morning after, how our entire congregation, each of us carrying a flower, walked in a procession
two blocks up Wilkins Avenue to pay our respects.

That morning, there were dozens of reporters and cameramen from around the world crammed on the corner across from the cordoned-off Tree of Life. It was solemn. People were talking in whispers.

Then one of our choir members started singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” We joined in and, soon, so did everyone else. I looked around. Cameramen were crying. Strangers were hugging each other. It was a moment.

So, when someone comments on my Stronger than Hate shirt, I use it as an opening. I’m proud to share a Pittsburgh story of love and support, And then, the Hamas massacre. Wearing this shirt is telling another story and a catalyst to other kinds of conversations everywhere we went.

On three occasions in early November, a person asked to take a picture of my shirt and its message. I got a lot of thumbs up from passersby.

On a Sunday morning in Charleston, we were walking through the famous market that goes several blocks along Meeting Street. Merchants were setting up their wares.

The sweet grass Gullah baskets are extraordinary. The wide variety of homemade art and carvings and souvenirs are enticing.

But the main draw are the people from around the world, all of us sharing the same experience.

As we walked by a handsome lady setting up her display of elegant tablecloths, she stopped in her tracks and approached me.

Thank you, thank you, for wearing that shirt.

Right. I segued into Pittsburgh and Tree of Life and how our city, like a family, supports our Jewish friends and neighbors.

“I’m from Brazil and live here now. I’m Jewish, and my husband is French and our son — he is a soldier in Israel.”

She took out her phone and showed us his picture, in uniform, a handsome young man. She was fighting back tears. We asked
his name.

It’s easy. His name is Daniel. Daniel. In a lion’s den.

The conversation quickly turned to the antisemitic hate exploding all over America. She showed us pictures of a Hamas rally in D.C., we talked of hostage posters being torn down, Nazi swastikas showing up near synagogues, including in Pittsburgh, even as we were commemorating the fifth anniversary of Tree of Life.

She showed us a chat room called Mothers of the Lone Soldier — about 230 mothers of Israeli soldiers who share their stories and support each other, every day. Some of the stories are harrowing.

Her son texted that he went into a kibbutz and found a family of a dozen or more who had been murdered — and then beheaded.

Who does that? Why is there so much hate in the world? Before we left, we bought one of her tablecloth runners, a gorgeous red Christmas design, that will remind us of meeting her, and her story. And Daniel’s. And our chance to share Pittsburgh’s.

So, the Stronger than Hate shirt is more than a shirt. It’s a page in our story of love and support of our Jewish friends and neighbors. It’s a reminder of a past that won’t go away but also one that goes forward with a hint of optimism.

There is another side of hate.

We have to keep turning the page. Keep telling the story.

Telling it may help us arrive at a better ending than any of us ever expected. pjc

Ray Werner is an ad executive turned Pittsburgh playwright whose business card reads Writer, Baker, Music Maker.

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