He was a healer, and lost his life rushing to help the wounded. She was everyone’s bubby, a mainstay of the community. They were the gentle souls who greeted everyone with a book and a smile. It is hard to summarize the magnitude of what each person meant to so many. Eleven loved ones, wrenched from their lives by hate and violence, but remembered for the love and unity that characterized their lives and the bedrock of this special community.
It is difficult to wrap our minds around the horrific events of Saturday. Now, we turn our thoughts and attention to Pittsburgh; we vow to be there for whatever support we can offer, prepared to provide whatever they need. Our Secure Community Network (SCN), which had been immediately deployed and on the ground within hours of this heinous attack, has locked arms with the community security director, providing ongoing support and service. We came to offer comfort, and support. We are there to follow in the path of this remarkable community, which embodies the covenant of unity not only across the Jewish community, but throughout the city, with every group. We feel the pain and sorrow of every good soul there. Jew, Christian, Muslim all ethnicities, races and creeds Pittsburgh itself is weeping. But it is strong and resilient.
Our friend and colleague, Jeff Finkelstein, the superb CEO of the Pittsburgh Federation, along with Federation Chair, Meryl Ainsman, and their exceptional professional and lay leadership team, continue to do an extraordinary job under the most trying circumstances. Grieving and in pain as they are, they have risen above their own concerns to comfort and steward a community towards regaining itself in the midst of tragedy. Because they intrinsically know that it is the kind of community they have built in Pittsburgh that will see them through this tragic period. We just heard an extensive briefing from Jeff, remarkable in its scope and demonstrative of a community so solid that it can mobilize, anticipate and address needs on a moment’s notice.
There has been an enormous presence and show of support from diplomats, officials, dignitaries from Israel, representatives of the White House, clergy from across the country, Federation representatives, leaders of other Jewish organizations and institutions. In reality, it is Pittsburgh, and in particular, the Federation, that is providing support to the rest of us. We want to also give them room to mourn and to heal. They are united in purpose not only with each other, but with you, as well. That is what every vigil is about. It is what is discussed at each funeral, each shiva, in the midst of death and mourning, there is the reverence for life and community that shines through.
In Fred Rogers’ neighborhood — this hamlet of Squirrel Hill that radiates out its warmth across a reeling country — he would have us seek out the helpers. One of the beacons through this darkness has been the wave of solidarity that people across the spectrum of faiths, races and creeds have profoundly shown for each other and, in particular, for the Jewish community. It has sparked a movement of renewed unity of purpose, one that we hope will not wane as the days pass. And in synagogues across North America this Shabbat, there will be an outpouring of that love and solidarity not only for Pittsburgh, but for the very soul of our country and world.
For now, we mourn the brutal loss of 11 beautiful souls, and we grieve with their loved ones and community. We pray for a speedy healing for the wounded. We honor the law enforcement efforts, the selfless acts of people who rushed in to assist at great personal risk, and of good and decent people everywhere. We know that through the coming weeks and months, there will be harsh realities that set in, there will be pain, and there will be unanswerable questions. We are here for our family in Pittsburgh, ready at the quick, willing and able to be of whatever support is needed.
Our hearts are broken, but not our resolve. We will take the lesson of Pittsburgh with us, and continue to build a new and inspiring future together.
We wish everyone a peaceful, restful, safe and meaningful Shabbat.
Mark Wilf is Chair, Board of Trustees, The Jewish Federations of North America
Jerry Silverman is President & CEO, The Jewish Federations of North America