What can I tell you that hasn’t already been said about what happened in Pittsburgh last Saturday? And should I tell you that alongside the dark images in my head of how it all unfolded, I have brighter images from two personal experiences this week: (1) a community prayer vigil for the Pittsburgh shooting victims and (2) a monthly Café Europa luncheon for Holocaust survivors?
We have hardly begun to grapple with the reality and ramifications of this assault to Jewish peoplehood, let alone allow the mourning process to unfold. Is it too soon to reach for reasons to hope?
Attending one of our community’s many prayer vigils this week, I was among more than 600 people of every faith, age, and ethnicity crammed to the rafters of a local synagogue. The speakers, in addition to rabbis from multiple denominations, included faith leaders from Islamic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, and other religions. There was palpable love in that space. I felt it – and I felt our local Jewish community has strong partners in countering anti-Semitism.
The next day, I had the privilege of attending Café Europa in a synagogue social hall filled with Holocaust survivors, their family members, and friends, complete with a festive lunch and musical entertainment from a guy channeling Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and their ilk. With me were my young colleagues, Jeff and Dana, both grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
I was filled with emotion when the thought crossed my mind that millennia of anti-Semitism, even the most heinous experienced by the people in the room, have not stamped us out. We are told today’s Jewish community faces attrition and assimilation at higher rates than previous generations, but seeing Jeff and Dana loving being with the 80- and 90-something survivors gave me hope. With education and inspiration from Jewish homes, schools, youth programs, and synagogue communities, all the Jeffs and Danas will carry Jewish perspectives, values, and traditions into the future.
When the entertainer broke out into Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable, the emotions I’d been holding at bay throughout the luncheon – maybe since Saturday – came crashing through, and I'm talking "ugly tears." I thought of these Holocaust survivors: you are unforgettable. We won’t forget what you endured and how you rebuilt Jewish lives and how you inspire us today to live proudly as Jews, even when our enemies seek to intimidate us into doing otherwise.
Finally, I have hope because, working at the Federation, I know our initiatives and our partnerships are making headway to enhance security preparedness, combat hate, and enable the Jewish community to respond when crisis occurs – on behalf of the nearly 70 different Jewish organizations and every Jew across the heart of NJ. I may still feel raw today, but I know the Federation, synagogues, and other Jewish organizations are working together, and with our partners from the interfaith community as well as in law enforcement, public safety, and government, to address the full scope of the issues amplified by the Pittsburgh shooting.
This Friday night begins Solidarity Shabbat across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. It is a movement to respond to the deadliest act of anti-Semitism in North American history with our greatest show of solidarity. Find a synagogue, any synagogue, and show up. I hope you will.
For more about Café Europa, contact Federation partners, Jewish Family Services in Middlesex or Jewish Family & Children’s Service in Monmouth.
By Lisa Karasic, the Jewish Federation's Chief Marketing Officer.