By Jackie Reese
Exactly one month ago, our community experienced a trauma that none of us ever expected. On Shabbat, a gunman walked into a local synagogue–a centrally located one that nearly every member of our Jewish community has some connection to–and murdered 11 innocent people. That day, we suddenly became the site of the largest mass murder of Jews in US History. It’s a distinction we never wanted.
It is impossible to find a single word to summarize October 27, 2018. Here at the Center, we have started calling it the “Ason,” a Hebrew word meaning “disaster”.
While we have always dealt with difficult topics and the consequences of unchecked hatred, there is something different about it happening in your own time, in your home. This experience has given our community membership to a sort of “club” that nobody would ever wish to be part of–the collective trauma and vulnerability that permeates your consciousness as you realize how easily your safety can be shattered by the horrific acts of a single, hateful individual. The sadness of full, beautiful lives that touched yours, in whatever tangential way, being snuffed out in a single, senseless moment.
Since the attack, we have received an outpouring of support and kindness from people and organizations across the world. Especially meaningful were donations and kind words from survivors of the Parkland shooting, with whom we now share a strange bond. It is one thing to read about shootings in the news; it is completely different when it happens in your own community. Weeks later, reading about the shooting in Thousand Oaks hit even deeper, as we understood more clearly the pain that the whole community feels when acts of hatred permeates our world.
So many organizations are doing good work to heal our community, but as we look forward, the question is how we prevent an event like the ason from ever occurring again.
Each community member and organization plays a part, and ours is education. We have always made the connections between the events of the Holocaust and the injustices of today, but we have now zeroed in on the importance of educating audiences of all ages about the roots of hate crimes and the importance of personal responsibility.
We also seek to remedy the startling statistics that have poured out within the last year: the 57% rise of hate crimes against Jews and the decline of memory of the Holocaust, with one fifth of American millenials saying they don’t even know what the Holocaust was.
If one individual can shatter the hearts of an entire community, then surely one individual has the same capacity for good. The difference is made through the education they receive. Since the ason, we have reached about 3000 people through assemblies, class visits, and public events to share our message. Our reach has been extending far beyond Pittsburgh; some of these people we have reached remotely via digital meetings with classrooms in other states. Our intention is to continue to maintain this high volume as we pursue our mission with a renewed sense of urgency.
It is a strange coincidence that the one month mark since the ason is also Giving Tuesday, a holiday all about giving to important causes in your community. It is hard to find the words to delicately stress the importance of remembering this, but we must. When we ask for your help supporting us, we do so with an urgent message in mind–the more support we have, the more programs we can offer, the more minds and hearts we can reach.
We do not want Pittsburgh to be thought of as the place where a hate crime occurred. Instead, we want to be the beacon of hope, light, and education. So many in our community have already done so much to move us toward that goal; we still have work to do. Please help us to do all that we can to be a part of this movement.