by Bob Poliquin, Managing Editor ~
It wasn’t long ago that we were all heartbroken over the shooting victims at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. Now it’s Pittsburgh. The Sun City community gathered on the evening of November 1 to remember the victims of the synagogue shooting.
When I heard about the Pittsburgh shooting, I immediately thought of two people. My friend Merrick is Jewish and grew up in Pittsburgh. He went to the Air Force Academy and was an F-15 Strike Eagle pilot, decorated for some amazingly heroic things he did in Desert Storm. Merrick and I were in Air Command and Staff College together as majors and later served together at the Pentagon. The other person I thought of is my Sun City friend Barry. Barry is an unrelenting advocate for Jewish people.
I reached out to Merrick to find out if his family in Pittsburgh is okay. And I knew Barry would find me, which he did before our Bible Study Club service on Sunday morning.
Merrick emailed me: “Yea, I have family right near there. Within a couple blocks. My grandmother lived there, and Shari [his wife] had a cousin on the same street. I also had several uncles and cousins who lived there. A couple are still living there. Squirrel Hill has been the Jewish section of town for at least 100 years. I’ve been there hundreds of times.”
Our community gathering wasn’t about politics – Democrats or Republicans. And although it wasn’t supposed to be about religion, I can’t imagine how it couldn’t be. The victims in Pittsburgh were attending services at The Tree of Life Synagogue. As I understand it, some victims were upstairs for a bris, welcoming a male baby into the Jewish faith. Other victims were downstairs for a Shabbat service. Regardless of whether you believe in God, they did. Out of respect, we owe it to them to speak about faith because the same way Dylann Roof made the shooting at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church about race, when Robert Bowers went into the Pittsburgh synagogue, he made the shooting about religion.
I think school shooters target schools not because they hate students but because their victims are essentially defenseless. The people in Charleston and Pittsburgh were attacked not because of what they do but because of who they are. In both instances they were practicing their religion as Christians and as Jews. And as Americans, they had every reasonable expectation of safety.
In the November 2018 Living @ SCCL magazine, my friend Barry wrote about Kristallnacht, Germany’s Night of Broken Glass. Barry says, “In the 1920s, most German Jews, who were citizens of Germany, were fully integrated into German society. Many had served and were serving in the German army and navy and were deeply involved in every facet of German society, especially business, science, and culture. Most Jews lived productive and prosperous lives in Germany.”
Barry’s point is, yes, they were Jewish, but socially and culturally they were also very German. As we were planning this gathering Sunday afternoon, Janet Sinderbrand, the President of the Shalom Club, said the German Jews could not imagine that their government, their countrymen, and their neighbors would do that to them.
Now back to Pittsburgh. Merrick’s email continues. He says, “In the late 70s, after some terrorist/Nazi business, we had armed guards, Pittsburgh police, outside our congregation for holidays and sometimes for Friday nights. I can’t imagine a big congregation not hiring off duty cops, at a minimum. It’s just the nature of the world, now a days. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but we also don’t need to give up. But my sister and some cousins are all enraged about the idea of cops outside a shul in America.”
A news source reports that on Monday morning, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi conducting services in Tree of Life at the time of the shooting and who called 911, stood at a street corner outside of the synagogue where memorials shaped like the Star of David had been placed along the sidewalk — one to honor each of those killed. The paper says he talked about the funerals to come and the difficult days and weeks ahead, but vowed: “Here in Pittsburgh, hate will not triumph. Love will win out.”
This is our prayer as well, that hate will not triumph, and that love will win out.
We are proud of our community in Sun City. When tragedy strikes, we don’t go to separate corners; instead, we come together.