Pittsburgh Jews Don’t Need Politics Right Now — We Need Support

In the last 24 hours, my home became a headline. 11 Jews were shot during Saturday morning services at Tree of Life Synagogue — where my sister taught Hebrew school and I went to my first bat mitzvah. The Squirrel Hill Jewish community, which has been such a glowing and prominent feature of my upbringing, became the victim of the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.

Squirrel Hill is the location of the 293rd mass shooting this year. For most, it is simply another name on a devastating list—= 00 devastating in the abstract sense with imagined houses and faceless people. Politicians and journalists have covered the shooting, the endless line of volunteers donating blood, the packed vigil on the intersection of Forbes and Murray and countless others around the world.

Our tragedy has become a rallying call to vote, to support or oppose gun-control. Mr. Rogers quotes have made punchy headlines and stood in poignant counterpoint to yesterday’s violence.

It is a concept irreconcilable with reality that when my phone vibrates, the topic is Squirrel Hill. My neighborhood is being prayed for, trending and could become a name like Parkland, nationally recognized and discussed with solemn yet impersonal reverence.

And though I am glad it is a subject being addressed on a national level, with a ubiquitous condemnation of anti-Semitism that is pathetically heartening under a president who responded to the 2017 Unite the Right rally by saying that there were some “very fine people on both sides,” most of the comments just don’t feel quite right.

To me and my neighbors, the shooting was not just an attack on the city of Pittsburgh at large and was not just an assault against the Jewish people; it is a violation of our personal community.

With 6,400 kids being raised Jewish in the Greater Pittsburgh area, a substantial number of them live in Squirrel Hill. The majority of us grew up involved with the thriving local Jewish network. Some went to the local Jewish Community Day School, some went to Emma Kauffmann Camp. We were members of youth groups and Jewish leadership programs. Most of us did community service with J-serve, took classes at J-line, did endless extra-curriculars at the JCC. When I took the SAT 2s, half of the room was taking the Hebrew test.

I have interned for the World Zionist Organization, gone to Shabbat dinner at Princeton and worked at the National Museum of American Jewish History. I have been a part of Jewish communities in Israel and in the United States, both local and national. None have felt like the one in Pittsburgh.

We had so much genuine ease and pride in being Jewish growing up. Defining our identities was not just a matter of what music we liked or clothing we wore, but what form our Judaism took and what role it played in our lives. Adults working at the JCC became friends and mentors. Our non-Jewish friends used to count down the days until the first night of Passover, when they would come over to our houses and sit at the table with us during Seder.

We aren’t just Pittsburghers, we aren’t just Jews; we are Pittsburgh Jews, an identity all its own, that has just suffered a shattering blow.

It is clear to me that those who have not experienced the warmth of the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill will never be able to really understand it. The words Squirrel Hill will remain black and white, filler syllables to talk about national political issues or the rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. And in a year when we are already 293rd on the list, I would expect nothing else.

But in my text message inbox, my FaceTimes and my Facebook feed, those words mean more. The impact of this attack is broad, ricocheting through a country in turmoil and a global Jewish community. Do not forget, however, that for Pittsburgh Jews, the pain of this attack is also local and personal. We are grieving for our upbringing, our home, and above all, the 11 murdered Jews whose names should never be forgotten and who should have been safe at services in our very own Squirrel Hill.

Please reach out to any friends you may have in the community. We need all the support we can get.

Community | Pittsburgh Jews Don’t Need Politics Right Now — We Need Support

Community | Pittsburgh Jews Don’t Need Politics Right Now — We Need Support

Community | Pittsburgh Jews Don’t Need Politics Right Now — We Need Support

This story "Pittsburgh Jews Need Support, Not Politics Right Now" was written by Noa Wollstein.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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Pittsburgh Jews Don’t Need Politics Right Now — We Need Support

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