We see humanity when we see each other
OpinionGuest Columnist

We see humanity when we see each other

There is something about an act of inhumanity that reminds us to be more aware of each other.

Families and congregants finish mulching trees during the April 11 ceremony in Schenley Park. Photo courtesy of the 10.27 Healing Partnership
Families and congregants finish mulching trees during the April 11 ceremony in Schenley Park. Photo courtesy of the 10.27 Healing Partnership

Three years ago, after the national media left town and the spotlight dimmed, something had changed.

We walked down Forbes Avenue with a renewed sense of closeness. People looked each other in the eye as they passed, making an effort to acknowledge the other person and the humanity we share. We didn’t always know one another’s name or story, but in that moment we knew we had shared an experience. Our neighborhood had been targeted in an act of hatred, and we were there to carry that story forward together. Today, we are still here and still together.

As we approach the third commemoration of Oct. 27, 2018, we remember the day 11 valued neighbors were taken from us. We know that many endured the physical and emotional injuries of an act of hate, and the threat to our freedom to worship safely. At the same time, we can still feel the call to look out for one another. There is something about an act of inhumanity that reminds us to be more aware of each other.

Psychologist Louis Cozolino says about humans, “We are not the survival of the fittest, we are the survival of the nurtured.” We are all stronger for looking into another person’s face and allowing that moment of vulnerability to be a moment of connection. We all have the power to make someone else feel seen and understood.

Our work at 10.27 Healing Partnership is to aid the essential pillars of the community — our congregations, organizations and individuals — as we process our collective grief. I am grateful for the fact that the Jewish community in general, and Pittsburgh’s Jewish community specifically, has strong and overlapping support structures. In the mental health profession, that’s called collective resiliency. It is an example of our modern world benefitting from the wisdom of our forebears.

The people who make up our community have done really inspiring things. There are two examples that really speak to me. These are stories in which one person, through one kind gesture, guided our entire community to use our power to help others.

The first example started at the Friendship Circle, which has been a wonderful presence in our community for a long time, creating programs for diverse groups of youth and teens. Seeing the struggles that young people have faced over these past three years, they wanted to maintain their identity and purpose, but also wanted to acknowledge everything we’ve been through. So, Friendship Circle started a training track to help young people think critically about being advocates in society. This started as advocacy for people with disabilities, but evolved into looking at mental health and how youth can help create trauma-informed communities.

A young woman spoke up during our meeting and suggested that some concepts were better expressed through art than in words. She thought of a way for people to be seen and feel seen, even when times are difficult. The idea grew from that conversation into a broader program with Friendship Circle and partner organizations. Ultimately it turned into a public art project that brought people together after a year of social distancing, and inspired many.

The second example started with a teenager who wanted to honor the 11 victims by planting trees in their memory. Quietly and anonymously, she worked to raise the money. Her actions prompted the families of the victims and others to think about where they wanted to see the commemorative trees planted, and ultimately what it means to memorialize. They truly wrestled with the question and ultimately found a location that felt right to them: Prospect Drive in Schenley Park. The trees were planted in a meaningful private ceremony in April.

Later, when community stakeholders discussed where they wanted to locate the third commemoration ceremony, they came back to the conversations around the trees. They decided that the space felt right for the broader, public commemoration, too. In that way one young woman, through her kindness, set in motion an entire chain of events that will resonate through our entire community.

All of us have something to offer. All of us have the power to look one another in the eye and share a moment of humanity. It is amazing what one small idea can become when we give it time and space to grow. Helping people feel seen is the best way to work through the hardships we face.

In that spirit, I hope everyone can join together on Oct. 27 at Prospect Drive in Schenley Park. The space is open starting at 3 p.m. and the program is set to begin at 4:30 p.m. Come and reconnect as we honor the lives taken and the people affected by the antisemitic attack three years ago. Greet your neighbors, share a smile, and really see each other.

There have been so many times recently that we have had to search for the reserves of hope and resiliency inside of us. Polarization and pandemic have led to fewer opportunities to look in each other’s eyes and share a moment of humanity. As we honor and mourn the people who were killed, and the lives affected, we know that we truly are stronger together. PJC

Maggie Feinstein is the director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership.

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