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Reflecting on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Attacks: One Week Later

It’s difficult to find the right words to say during a time of crisis.

In the week that has passed since the attacks on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I’ve found it challenging to navigate the myriad of emotions I feel toward yet another senseless act of violence. On Saturday, October 27, citizens across the country woke up to the news of the vicious attack against synagogue-goers. As many stood stunned and heartsick, the gravity of the situation weighed heavily upon the spirits of those within and outside of the Squirrel Hill community. With a connection to the City of Pittsburgh as well as the Jewish community, I feel closely connected to the events that have unfolded.

Though not of the Jewish faith myself, I grew up with several friends and families who practiced Judaism. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of lighting the Menorah during Hanukkah and celebrating Purim and Rosh Hashanah with those friends that always embraced my family and I into their traditions. Countless summer days were spent at the local Jewish Community Center (JCC) where I would swim at the pool and enjoy summer camp. What I learned growing up with such closeness was the unwavering sense of unity and strength that persists within the Jewish community, no matter what. The Jewish people have overcome much hardship throughout history, yet this has never placed a limit on their perseverance and commitment to a flourishing culture and faith.

In addition to feeling connected to the Jewish community, I also have a long history with the City of Pittsburgh. With the maternal side of my family hailing from the Steel City, Pittsburgh has always held a special place in my heart. The city itself has a unique sense of pride in its locality, rich with history and an unwavering impression of community that brings together anyone with roots to the area. 

Considering the above, then, it is no wonder that my reaction to what took place last weekend was so strong.

Upon first hearing the news of the synagogue attack, I immediately felt anger. Anger at the fact that gun violence has once again harmed and disrupted the lives of many. Anger that something so horrible could happen to innocent people. Anger that hatred and anti-Semitism continues to exist. Since that news broke, the anger has not subsided. Instead, it has been accompanied by sadness and deep sorrow. The hurt I feel for those lost by such pointless violence has surfaced through a breakdown of tears shed and a questioning of what it all means—if anything.

I’ve realized that trying to make sense of such horror often results in an endless pursuit, leaving you without any real satisfying conclusions. Rather than trying to understand why something so awful would happen, I’m challenging myself to look to those striving toward rebuilding their community.  An interfaith vigil held at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall welcomed thousands to gather and mourn the loss together. Leaders like Wasi Mohamed, director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and Engage Pennsylvania, has been active in raising funds for Tree of Life and dedicating efforts toward support.  “We will be there for them in any way we can,” Mohamed has publicly said. “Not just this week, but next week, the next month, and then next year—we want to make sure that we keep these relationships.” Additional crowdfunding from various groups advocating for solidarity with the Jewish community raised upward of $150,000. Clearly, organizers are committed to providing whatever semblance of comfort and guidance they can to those who have lost so much.

As Pittsburgh hero, Mr, Rogers, once said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The attacks that took place at Tree of Life synagogue have shaken the foundations of many, but if one thing is for certain, goodness does remain in the hearts and minds of many. We have to seek out those like-minded people and groups, connect with them, and support every effort to rebuild what has been damaged. The best way to honor the victims of a tragedy is to live with a spirit of generosity and goodwill toward our neighbors, never allowing darkness to fully eclipse the light.

Abbey is an Ohio native currently caught between the charm of the Midwest and the lure of the big city. She loves all things politics and pop culture, and is always ready to discuss the intersections of both. Her favorite season is awards season and she is a tireless advocate of the Oxford Comma. Abbey will take a cup of lemon tea over coffee any day and believes that she can convince you to do the same. As a former English major, she holds the power of words near and dear.
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