The Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Squirrel Hill was the location of a mass shooting yesterday at the Tree of Life synagogue. Photo via Wikipedia.

By Max Breene

Yesterday morning, an attack on the Conservative Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh took the lives of 11 innocent congregants and left six others wounded. The shooting was described by the Washington Post as the “deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.”

According to the Post article, the synagogue is the anchor of a “large and close-knit Jewish community” in Pittsburgh.  From my own personal life experience, I understand what this phrase means.

I grew up attending Sunday school and going to prayer services at a Conservative synagogue—the now-defunct Temple Am David—in Warwick, Rhode Island. It was a place that I would describe as a community.

It was a place where you made friends with people of all different walks of life. It was a place where our rabbi was more than just someone who read lines from scripture; he was a friend, a mentor and someone you could count on at all times.

Temple Am David was a place where you had fun, like when we held the annual Purim festival, and it was a place where you were somber, like during those long, grueling Yom Kippur services where all you could think about was when you could finally eat again.  And every week, on Saturday morning, it was a place where congregants joined together to pray and celebrate Shabbat as a community.

During one of those Shabbat services Saturday morning at the Tree of Life synagogue, a community was shocked by an act of senseless violence. The shooting suspect, whose name I will not dignify by mentioning, reportedly has a long and outspoken history of making anti-Semitic remarks on social media.  The shooter was shouting anti-Semitic slurs as he carried out the attack with an AR-15-style assault rifle, according to the Post article.

I’m not going to go on a rant about gun control policy here, and that’s not my purpose with this column. If you want to see my views on that, check out these tweets from the immediate aftermath of my hearing the news on Saturday here.

What I will say, though, is that neither Jewish-Americans, nor Americans of any other religious creed, should have to fear for their lives while they gather in a place of worship.  It is up to the policymakers who are in power to identify and fix this problem, and if they cannot do that on account of some political ideology, they would be turning their backs on the very communities that are hurting the most right now.

However, I know that this attack will not break the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill. Growing up in a Jewish community myself, I know that it is like being part of a family. I know that if my community had been the victim of an attack like this, we would have been shocked; we would have been scared; but ultimately, we would have come together and persevered through the pain, because that’s what a family does.

This attacker intended to break the spirit of the Jewish community across America with his cowardly act, but in the end, all he has done is strengthened our solidarity.


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