We are inching our way back to some kind of forever altered state of normal. For me, today felt like a turning point in that direction.
This morning I took my periodic tour of tefillot (prayer services) in which I pop in on all the tefillot going on in our building between 8 and 8:30 a.m. It is always heartening to go from 3-year-olds to 13-year-olds in 30 minutes, sort of like a time warp experience seeing the lifecycle of childhood compressed in a really speedy time frame.
A 3-year-old child held the door to the tunnel open for me while working with classmates to deliver a healthy snack to their classroom. First graders were taking the Torah out of the ark and getting set to give it a kiss. In tefillot for Grades 2-5, I watched 2nd graders follow along in their Siddurim while uttering each word in Hebrew, and then enjoyed a rendition of Adon Olam chanted in the patriotic Yankee Doodle melody that is a current favorite. I got to Middle School tefillot in time for misheberach, encountering one of the longest lines waiting to recite names for healing, including the names of the first responders and congregants who are recovering from their injuries of three weeks ago.
Later in the day, I sat around a table in my office, in one of our regular meetings with leaders from Yeshiva Schools and Hillel Academy. We all shared the same experience of the last several weeks, with people from across the country marveling at the way we Jews in Pittsburgh get along with one another and feel that we are all one tight community. As if it doesn’t happen like this anywhere else.
And just now, two of our 8th Grade docents for the Gary and Nancy Tuckfelt Keeping Tabs: A Holocaust Sculpture rushed downstairs when called to offer a tour to the two Duquesne University priests who have been spending several hours with us this week. They’ve been here twice already, to offer support to anyone seeking it, including for our Christian staff members who seek spiritual strength and comfort along with the rest of us.
Passing through the halls, I saw exquisite works of art that arrived in a package from Montreal, sent to us with love from children from the Jewish community there. They were being unwrapped and put on display along with hundreds of cards, letters, drawings, and even a tapestry that have come in from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, public, private, and parochial schools from places near and far. I know that the people from around the continent who have thought to write to us, draw for us, send us food, or get on a bus for a one-day round trip visit from Brooklyn, were going through their own process of shock, grief, and sorrow that turned into empathy that turned into action.
It has been incredibly healing to be on the receiving end of their actions and to feel the waves of love and support and solidarity wash over us, even as we begin to wonder what we can do to reach out to the victims and their families of the Thousand Oaks mass shooting, the victims of fire throughout California, and the victims of another war heating up between Israel and Gaza, and the victims of homelessness, neglect, gun violence, or poverty in our own neighborhoods, sadly, to name just a few of the horrors that are befalling innocent people worldwide. The capacity to receive comfort and the impulse to offer comfort are a cycle of caring that shows the best in humanity. And this cycle of caring is what perhaps distinguishes the response to this anti-Semitic attack from past atrocities.
A good friend told me she’d found comfort in the Facebook status posted by one her friends, Alice Sahel-Azagury: “The difference is the absence of indifference.” Alice and her family moved to Pittsburgh from Paris in 2016 after the sharp increase in anti-Semitic attacks. There was no Magen David (Star of David) on billboards, and little outcry beyond the Jewish world to recognize the attacks as anti-Semitic and anti-human.
For me, the “absence of indifference” is what has brought light in this very dark time. Yes, we as Jews were attacked for being Jews. But in the long history of anti-Semitism there are not many examples of solidarity around us by Jews and non-Jews alike.
I am so grateful to be part of a community that will forever stand as one of the brightest examples of the absence of indifference. Our tummies and walls and display boards are overflowing with such examples. As are our hearts.