Where do I start to express how I feel about what happened in Pittsburgh? Do I tell you how my heart didn’t stop racing all day on Saturday from when I first heard the news?  That I am just too sad and scared to be angry? That I feel like an outsider in my own country?

I didn’t know any of the individuals killed or injured in Pittsburgh, but I knew every single one of them. They are my friends and neighbors, my fellow congregants, my family, my ancestors. Yes, I have some actual ties to Pittsburgh—relatives from long ago who lived there including my great-grandfather, friends who grew up there, a brother who once lived there, and so on. But even if I didn’t, I knew these people. Because they were like me, a Jewish person living in America taking for granted all too often that we are safe. That it can never happen here. That people are basically good, that evil will not prevail.

Now I am not so sure. More and more we see the evil prevailing, the anger fanned, the hatred accepted and even condoned. Whether it is directed against someone because of their religion—be it Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Christianity—or their skin color or their sexual orientation or their gender or their age or their nationality, the hatred is not only there, it is being acted upon. And it is not being condemned by our federal government in strong enough terms to be credible. In fact, it is encouraged.

I am beginning to lose faith in people. I no longer feel safe, I no longer believe it could never happen here. I have learned from studying my family history and Jewish history in general how much hatred and oppression and discrimination and violence have shaped my own history. Many of my ancestors came to this country in order to escape anti-Semitism and the oppression and lack of opportunity they faced in Europe. When I learned how many of my not-so-distant relatives died in the Holocaust or survived it against all odds or escaped just in time, I felt so grateful for America. America was supposed to be different. But is it really so different now?

Of course, in some ways it is. In Pittsburgh, the police took bullets to protect Jews. The mayor condemned what happened. The government there was not afraid to help the victims or condemn the murderer. On Facebook I am heartened when I see non-Jews standing up and making any kind of statement condemning what happened. We attended a gathering at our synagogue, and I was touched to see representatives there from other faiths and government officials pledging to stand by us. The service ended with the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and Hatikvah. As the rabbi said, we sing The Star Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, because this is our home.  And we sing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem which means “the hope,” because we are Jews and to remind us that that we must never abandon hope.

And as I write this, I realize that I am not afraid to publish these thoughts. Because somewhere deep inside I must still trust that I will be safe here. But not as much as I once did.

Tomorrow I will return to telling my family’s story—with even more urgency than before. Because people—not just my people, not just my family—need to know what we as Jews have endured and what we have learned, what we have suffered and what we have contributed. And people need to understand the dreams that brought our ancestors here. We must not let those dreams die.

57 thoughts on “Pittsburgh

  1. Totally agree Amy and share the same concerns here in London, England. I work in Stamford Hill and sadly many Jewish schools, synagogues etc have to pay for visible manned security to prevent such attacks. Best wishes

    Liked by 2 people

  2. If your faith in God is not shaken by the atrocities we are witnessing almost on a daily basis in America and around the world, then you have the hope you can live by, Amy. It is also good to know that in spite of the recent horrible events in Pittsburgh, America is still a safe place to be, where the authorities do not condone crimes of hatred and act vigorously to punish the perpetrators. I share your worries and concerns, Amy.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Peter. Sadly, I do not find much comfort in faith at these times. Too many horrible things have happened in the name of religion for me to believe that God can stop the evils committed by human beings. Only we can do that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It is true that many horrible crimes have been committed in the name of religion, but also many crimes have been committed in the name of atheism, such as by communism and by the French revolution to name just two examples. We must distinguish between the misguided religious and non-religious people on the hand and the divine message of love on the other. That is all I wish to say, dear Amy. Best wishes! Peter

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Amy – my heart is broken. Each time events like this happen – in your country, in mine, in any. I am not Jewish but over the years my family has close Jewish friends who have become like family to us, with them coming to stay with us, and my parents visiting out in Israel.
    It makes me so angry and so upset hearing this news. Why anyone thinks they have the right to take another’s life, let alone commit an act like this, is beyond my imagination.
    The world is taking some disgustingly familiar steps in recent years, I cannot believe what is going on. The rise of the far right is distressing – we’ve seen this week Brazil having elected a far right leader with some horrific views and values.
    I stand with you in solidarity and in mourning. x

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Alex, for sharing your thoughts and for your support. I find the greatest comfort and strength when people like you—non-Jews who share our outrage and pain–stand up and say, “Never again.” Thank you.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Amy, I could not believe this evil happened in America, I didn’t think it would reach there. I associate it with Europe and the far right. In the UK we all sense what’s happening politically in wider Europe with these radicals and
    extremists gaining ground at an alarming rate. Having Jewish roots I am occasionally invited to synagogue and the congregation is locked inside with security guards until the assembly has finished. Thank you for your blog as it has echoed everything I am thinking.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. As a descendant of an Orthodox Jewish family, I am with you in spirit, Amy. My Great Grandfather Pincus Rosenbaum came to America with his family to escape the persecutions in Boryslaw, Galicia once the town was discovered to have oil and greedy landowners seized any property owned by Jews. Although we like to think as a nation and as a world community humanity is ever improving and progressing upward and onward it is not the case. Anti-Semitism and hate that erupts for any group, race, religion or country is always an undercurrent. It finds a home in the empty vessels it possesses and gains presence when those hollow shells of people full express what is possessing them. This is a sign of a moral, spiritual, cultural disease that needs to be addressed. I do not believe people are born evil but rather they become that way. There needs to be a much stricter look at how those who are mentally ill, emotionally disturbed or criminally inclined are treated and placed in society. I am not in favor of isolating even these people but it seems that too often they fall between the cracks and are loose and roaming at large. It is a huge problem but one that needs to be seriously addressed, especially in relation to gun and weapon control.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you completely. There will always be people who hate, and when they feel threatened or when the leaders encourage them, that hate will turn to violence. Mental illness is a part of it, but only a part. Reading what people write on the internet reveals just how deep and how widespread hatred it—be it racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, etc. I am not sure where we start to contain it, but gun control is a necessary but not sufficient first step.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Amy- I am saddened by what happened recently. Since I have roots in Eastern Europe and through the recently found connection to the Cohen family, I find that hate in this country has recently increased. I will pray and hope that there may be a change in the presidency and with the government soon to make rapid changes in mental health and gun control. I wish for peace for all and I hope for all my Jewish friends and family that they pray and practice peace in their lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I am with you, my sister. We are all in this together. Some days I barely recognize our country. I keep holding out hope and yet I see things continue or worsen. We must hold tight to our dreams and yet fear has set in for many of us who wish to live in peace and harmony. Know that there are kind an loving people still in our country. We have to hold tight to each other. My heart is aching, too, for each and every violent action and divisive word we are enduring on a daily basis. Sending you love, Amy.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Beautiful words, Amy, and I thank you for sharing them.

    Temple Israel (MPLS) held a powerful service yesterday, but it wasn’t until a small group began singing Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach” that I felt a sliver of hope again. Still, I’m not quite there completely yet, but love repeating these words from the song:

    “May the source of strength,
    Who blessed the ones before us,
    Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,and let us say, Amen.”

    Thank you for again for sharing from your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We sang Debbie Friedman’s Mi Sheberach also at our service. It is always a song of comfort. Thank you so much for your kind words and for reading and commenting.


  9. My dear Amy, I have only just heard about this atrocity (being on holiday in a hotel with no TV). I have no words; just a heart full of sadness and anger and fear. Please know that I am thinking of you and the families and friends and communities of the innocents who have been killed by ignorant hatred. Kia Kaha — stand strong.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh Amy, I have been heartbroken ever since I heard the news (late, as it was a weekend filled with ignoring the outside world). I feel so much sadness. Hate is terrifying. How is this still happening? Why can’t we learn how to foster love and kindness – FOR ALL – on a broader scale?

    And then I also think about my own ancestors – the ones that are a big blank hole in my tree. What did they suffer? Why did Grandpa Costello hide them from us? Was he trying to protect us from that same suffering?

    So here I sit, mourning with you and all who mourn with you, knowing that I belong to your community through birth and yet having so little understanding of how. I feel like an outsider to a community I descend from. My connection was hidden from me and yet I seek it out fearlessly. Is that because I have experienced peace and safety and have no idea what Grandpa Costello experienced? I don’t know.

    My heart is with you. I’m so sorry for the pain you are feeling. You are safe with me, I wish that were enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel your confusion and your pain. I am sure your grandfather hid his background to protect himself and his family. I can’t imagine there were too many Jews out there where he was living, and there has always been anti-Semitism even in the US. But it is good that you know your roots because so many people would think differently if they recognized that their own families had Jews or other “others” somewhere along the line. So many of my newly found cousins are not Jewish—due to intermarriage, conversion, etc. Some embrace their long lost heritage as you do, and others want to hear nothing about those roots. I hope you keep finding more answers. Your journey is an important one for you and for all of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This has been so heartbreaking, and I am so sad about the pain it has caused. America *is* supposed to be better than this. And I still believe that at its core, and in the vast majority of cases, it is. Please don’t lose faith. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am trying. I went to another synagogue service last night—part of a national commitment for Jews and non-Jews to stand together this weekend—and it was very moving and uplifting. Thank you, Laura.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Pittsburgh – Stories From the Past

  13. I have watched the hatred grow over the years and how it reduces our shared humanity. We are really one family, massive and diverse, but still we are human beings regardless of where our ancestors came from or the color of our skins or our religious beliefs or any of the other things that are artificial separators. We are all family, ancestors, us, descendants and we must start truly understanding that the things put forward as hard and fast facts to keep us apart are not true or actual facts and we are all closer to each other than we know. Sadly, human beings are also capable of such horrible behavior toward each other, it is appalling. I grieve with the families of the Pittsburg murders.
    There was a surprising coming together after the destruction of the World Trade Center. People who would meet in stores would speak to each other. People who would otherwise not consider talking to strangers. They were in shock, we are again in shock. This is an atrocity. This is not who the American people are. This is not how any people should be.
    I applaud you for speaking out, we must. If we do not, the day will come when they will come for us and we will wonder why.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This was beautifully expressed. Please don’t lose faith. In the end, hate can’t be allowed to win. I believe the majority of us out here choose love and gratitude rather than hate and anger. I mourn with you. Thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan. I want to believe that also, and knowing that so many others are also grieving and upset and not indifferent to what happened is a great comfort.


  15. I do not accept, I do not condone. I am not Jewish, and haven’t found any Jewish roots, but two of my ancestral lines are people who have been persecuted for their beliefs or race. Even if they hadn’t, I would not accept or condone such behavior. I am a peacemaker, a peace hoper, a peace wanter. I pray for all people to come together in peace, and at worst, ignore those they cannot like. I don’t understand hatred. I don’t understand what makes some human beings violent and ugly in their actions. I mourn with you and pray for you, as an American and as a human being.

    Liked by 1 person

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