There is a joke about Jewish history: “they tried to kill us, we survived. Let’s eat”. But like any joke, there is a truth behind the laughter. Though we are still here, the collective emotional scar of the losses is still with us, even if it is generations after a specific event.
Today is the 3rd anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. To even type those words hurts. It could have happened in any synagogue in America. But this person chose to walk into Tree of Life and started shooting. What I remember about that day is the fear as I watched the news. I have not attended services reguarlarly in decades, but I have family who does. My initial fear was that this heinous act had reached my relatives. Thankfully, it didn’t.
The message that was sent did not need to be spoken. According to the gunman and those who think like him, we do not belong in this country. Our “differences” (which are merely on the surface) mark us for at best being questionable outsiders and at worst, put a target on our backs. I would love to say that in the three years since 11 innocent people were murdered, that this was the turning point away from hate and prejudice. Unfortunately, as we all know, it wasn’t.
May the memories of those killed that day be a blessing. Z”L.
Antisemitism is on the rise. It is a fact that is sadly indisputable. When innocent congregants were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th, 2018, it was a wake up call.
Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer (co-host of the Unorthodox podcast), was published earlier this month. In the book, Opppenheimer focuses on the community, both past and present. It starts with the history of both the city and the neighborhood and ends with how it has bounced back since that day. What makes Squirrel Hill unique is that it is both diverse and has retained it’s Jewish neshama (soul). While in other parts of the country, there is an obvious demographic, cultural and religious shift over the decades, this district has maintained its identity.
When the gunman (who the author does not mention by name and shall be referred to in the same manner in this review) entered the synagogue, it was an event that can only be described as knowing the rose colored glasses off of our collective faces. With a journalist’s eye and the heart of an ordinary human being, Oppenheimer speaks to survivors, the victim’s family members, local residents, historians, and others to tell the story of a moment in time that will forever be preserved in a moment of hate, fear, and heartbreak.
I loved this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on multiple lists of the top books of 2021. If the author’s approach would have been to wallow in grief and anger while telling this story, he would have had every right to. But he treats the subject with sensitivity and the understanding that not everyone involved is ready or able to talk about that day and its aftermath.