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Resilience Rising: Navigating the Aftermath of the Pittsburgh Shooting and the Unexpected Bonds that Formed in My Community


"From Pittsburgh to Israel: A Personal Reflection on Tragedy, Trauma, and the Unseen Bonds of Resilience"

Editor’s Michael Bernstein, chair of the interim governance committee of the reimagined Tree of Life, shares his personal perspective on the profound impact of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and draws unexpected parallels to recent events in Israel.

"Is that hammering from next door?" I asked my 16-year-old son on October 27, 2018, after four sharp bangs disrupted the usual calm near our home in Pittsburgh. "I think those were gunshots," he responded—an answer for which I was utterly unprepared.

Gunfire seemed implausible in our neighborhood, a haven of safety and tranquility in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill section. Almost immediately, the wailing of police sirens confirmed my son's grim assessment. In a very short time, the devastating reality unfolded: Eleven Jews were massacred at the Tree of Life synagogue, simply for being Jewish.

As news of a Hamas attack on October 7 reached me weeks before the fifth commemoration of the Tree of Life shooting, a sickening feeling enveloped me—a visceral recognition of violence's trauma. The horror intensified as reports of casualties in Israel surged. Memories of the synagogue attack rushed back as I learned about the recent attacks in Israel, where communities sought refuge in their homes but had their lives shattered by gunfire.

During the Tree of Life tragedy and its aftermath, my phone buzzed incessantly with calls and texts: "Are you okay?" "Where are you?" Similar to the experiences of thousands in Israel now grappling with the aftermath of the Hamas attack, my family and I emerged physically unscathed. However, as terrifying images flashed on screens and messages flooded in, we had to admit that, no, we were not okay. Today, as I read about Israel, the haunting reality resurfaces: They are not okay either.

"From Closure to Solidarity: Navigating Tragedy, Resilience, and the Ongoing Battle Against Hate"

In June, when the shooter was found guilty of 63 counts of murder, it marked the close of a dark chapter for us in Pittsburgh. The verdict brought a sense of closure, allowing us to move forward in the challenging task of honoring our loved ones through the process of rebuilding. Survivors and victims' families found solace in the justice served, seeing it as a societal acknowledgment that the killing of Jews is a crime that warrants the full weight of the law.

However, the recent Hamas attack shattered this semblance of closure. The brutal acts of killing, kidnapping, and harming innocent people, solely for being Jewish or perceived as such, represented the most heinous attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust. It reopened wounds in our community and echoed the need for collective support.

Much like the Jews of Pittsburgh five years ago, the global Jewish community now looks to our allies for solidarity. In 2018, we needed our leaders to guide us, and many rose to the occasion. President Joe Biden's unequivocal condemnation of the barbarism committed by Hamas serves as a crucial example. Nevertheless, there are voices that appear confused or, worse, supportive of such violence. As those who have experienced the consequences of harmful rhetoric turning into deadly actions, we are alarmed.

Here in Pittsburgh, the rebuilding of the Tree of Life goes beyond physical reconstruction. It evolves into a new institution dedicated to eradicating antisemitism and other forms of identity-based hate, all while honoring the memory of those we lost. Our journey emphasizes the urgency of working across differences to foster the sense of belonging we all seek.

We recognize the importance of criticizing Israeli policies and empathizing with the Palestinian people. However, cheering the death of any people, especially innocent civilians, is both appalling and unacceptable. Directed at the Jews of Israel, such sentiments reveal a double standard constituting antisemitism—an alarming mix of othering, dehumanization, and the celebration of Jewish deaths.

As the Israel-Hamas conflict unfolds, harmful rhetoric has already translated into harmful actions in the United States. Jews and Jewish institutions face threats of violence, and the tragic murder of six-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al-Fayoume highlights the devastating real-world consequences. For the sake of us all, a collective commitment to doing better is imperative.

"From Tragedy to Hope: Reflections on Healing and Solidarity"

In the wake of heart-wrenching accounts from various perspectives, ranging from the tragic experiences in Gaza to personal stories of loss and survival, it is evident that the recent weeks have been a time of profound sorrow. However, amidst this collective grief, there emerges a glimmer of hope.

Reflecting on the aftermath of the Tree of Life attack, the deadliest antisemitic incident in American history, the response from the Pittsburgh community stands out as a beacon of humanity. In an unprecedented show of unity, neighbors embraced their Jewish counterparts, offering support and solace. Notably, the local Muslim leader spearheaded efforts to fund all the funerals, while Christian clergy hosted services for those affected by the tragedy.

Pittsburgh's reaction serves as a testament to the transformative power of empathy, courage, and connection in the face of hatred. The city demonstrated that, when confronted with a crime against one community, the entire city and humanity can stand together in defiance.

As the fifth commemoration of the Tree of Life tragedy approaches, it is crucial to honor the victims and acknowledge the collective grief. Yet, equally important is remembering the beauty that emerged from the aftermath — the love, solidarity, and meaningful relationships forged in a time of darkness.

The call to action resonates: denounce violence, hate, and hypocrisy unequivocally. Navigate this challenging journey with courage, empathy, and solidarity. The Tree of Life stands as a symbol of light and hope, reminding us that, though the path may be arduous, collective efforts can contribute to healing a broken world.

In conclusion, as we reflect on the poignant narratives of loss, fear, and resilience, the recent weeks have brought forth a tapestry of emotions that tugs at the very fabric of our humanity. From the deeply personal accounts in Gaza to the heartbreaking stories closer to home, the weight of sorrow is palpable.

Yet, amidst this shared grief, a glimmer of hope emerges, exemplified by the remarkable response of the Pittsburgh community to the Tree of Life tragedy. In the face of the worst antisemitic attack on American soil, the city rallied together, transcending religious and cultural boundaries. The outpouring of support, from the Muslim community funding funerals to Christian clergy hosting services, showcased the indomitable power of unity and compassion.

As we approach the fifth commemoration of the Tree of Life tragedy, it becomes imperative not only to remember the victims and the pain but also to hold onto the beauty found in the aftermath—the love, solidarity, and relationships that blossomed in the face of adversity.

The call to action reverberates: condemn violence, hate, and hypocrisy unequivocally. Navigate this challenging journey with courage, empathy, and solidarity. The Tree of Life stands not only as a memorial but as a beacon, reminding us that collective efforts, no matter how difficult, have the potential to heal a broken world. Together, let us continue this vital work of fostering understanding, resilience, and the unwavering belief in the power of humanity to rise above hatred.