Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: how we should respond
As I walked into the Jewish Community Center on Sunday morning to attend a memorial service for the Jewish War Veterans, I didn’t t know what I would find. In July, I had been asked to speak as a keynote for this day of remembrance for Jewish veterans who had passed in the prior year. My father-in-law, Elliott P. Sherman, had served in World War II and was among the names to be read that day.
I couldn’t have known that the day before the service, a gunman would enter a synagogue in Pittsburgh and start shooting.
I expected there might be heightened security at the JCC. But what I didn’t expect was what I found: the energy and vibrancy that buzzed throughout the building. The Jewish Book Festival filled up an auditorium. Children were running around the lobby. People in exercise clothes were walking by, dripping with sweat from their workouts.
And I thought, “Exactly right.”
This is exactly how we should act in response to madness. We must continue to live our lives fully in tribute to those who were taken from us and in defiance of those who would stop us in our tracks with their cowardice.
Yes, there should be mourning and vigils. And the memorial I was there to attend was just that. But in the moment, as I entered the building, I also saw a community doing what it does best: living life to the fullest.
It was just as appropriate, especially in the aftermath of Pittsburgh, to pay solemn tribute to those Jewish veterans who had served their country with dignity and pride. The mission of the Jewish War Veterans of U.S.A. makes clear the two-fold responsibility for these men and women of the Jewish faith who serve: to protect the Constitution and to advance a core Jewish value, tikkun olam, “to repair the world.”
During the service, I truly understood the meaning of the Jewish War Veterans of U.S.A.’s mission: “To foster and perpetuate true Americanism and to combat the powers of bigotry and darkness wherever originating and whatever their target.”
I was moved by the symbolism of a table set for those missing in action, the men in uniform who serve the post faithfully, and even the sight of a Jewish mother taking a member of the honor guard’s face (her son’s) into her hands to give him a kiss.
When I spoke, I paid tribute my own father-in-law, whose service in World War II first brought him to the Finger Lakes when he attended officer training at Cornell. It was there he learned to love this part of New York. Ultimately he settled in Geneva, New York, to raise his family — fittingly, in a house across the street from the American Legion Post.
I also shared the story of Dr. Edith Eger, who survived Auschwitz and in her book, The Choice, tells her story, a tribute to the soldiers who liberated her and saved her from nearly dying. She also shares her life-long dedication to helping others, many of them soldiers, heal from trauma.
As we enter yet another time to mourn for the madness that abounds in our world, we must also enter into a time to heal. Dr. Eger says, “Time doesn’t heal — It’s what you do with the time.”
Madness and evil may always exist in the world, but I believe the best way to spend our time is to combat the madness by living with integrity, curiosity, love, and especially pride in who we are and joy in what we do — just as I witnessed on Sunday at our local JCC.
For those lost in Pittsburgh and for those Jewish war veterans who fought for the greatest ideals of our country, may your memory be a blessing and a beacon to all of us.
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