Pittsburgh murders demand self-examination of faith

It came as a news crawl. Those often choppy sentences hastily written, and then streamed across the bottom of the broadcast screen.

News we’ve seen far too often, and despite our own admonitions, we’ve become desensitized to. Until the words strike at our familiar soul. Something close to home. Something that forces us to dig a little deeper into our emotional psyche.

The slaughter in a Pittsburgh temple. First, it was a shooting. Then, it became a story where we were told to expect “multiple casualties”. Followed by “deaths are expected”.

Nine dead. Then ten. Then, finally, 11 people. Men and women from a synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. Others injured. A madman with a grudge decided finally, snapped, loaded his weapons and went hunting for humans.

Not just any humans. He went to kill Jews. A selection made not out of politics. Not out of color. Not because of wealth, power or vengeance for actions taken.

Due to their faith. Based on how they chose to worship God. To pray. Have faith. Raise families. Simply live.

It didn’t strike me until later in the day, in a quiet moment.

I had taken our dogs to the park for a late afternoon walk. As the sun was going down, I saw them both in the perfect moment. Silhouetted by the sun, the trees, the water just behind them.

Life. Peaceful, quiet, needing no commentary or additional sound.

Suddenly in that quiet, I was thinking of 11 people who woke that morning. Simply facing another day, one where peaceful worship was at the core of their activity. Surrounded by friends, family, and faith. Where they too, could have watched as the sun set on another peaceful day.

Who were now gone. Forever. Friends grieving. Families shattered. Faith, for some, broken. For others, in that moment, all they had to hang on to.

All because for no other reason they were Jewish.

So am I.

I am a child of two faiths. One more prevalent than the other, one that I have spent much more time exploring and accepting as I take trips around the sun.

My Grandfather was a Hungarian Jew. His Mother and Father came to America around the turn of the century, making the trip aboard one of those many boats that made the journey filled with those seeking a better life. Processed thru Ellis Island, they brought their dreams, and their faith, to the New World.

By the time I came into the picture, religion wasn’t a regular part of family life. Buried, not talked about, not addressed for reasons I will never know. Despite years of research, I can only turn up pieces and whispers. A greater effort filled with realizations and the need for even more exploration, thanks to DNA testing that has confirmed what I knew, at a level I never imagined.

When asked now, and for many years, I don’t whisper. I say proudly that I am a descendant of Hungarian Jews, and perhaps much more in my genealogical background. I’m learning more every day about my heritage, and despite not being raised daily in the faith, I understand what it’s like to be Jewish, even if it’s only a small part of my soul.

It is a part of who I am. And even at this minute percentage, I have experienced a much smaller, yet noticeable, level of eyebrow raising and change in attitude when the subject arises. I have also personally witnessed a change in demeanor by those who, in large groups or personal conversations I’ve been part of, suddenly realize they are speaking about or with someone who identifies with and embraces his Jewish roots.

It is, in a word, despicable. It has deeply affected me, forced me to say things in response some might deem unacceptable in polite conversation, and in my younger days a discussion that cost me relationships with people I had taken as friends.

The moment it rose in discussion at a recent place of employment, when a co-worker discussed “the Jews” in conversation, is burned into my mind.

It remains one of those stories little covered, lost amidst the screaming and polarizing of every day America. Antisemitism is on the rise, around the world and here in America. It’s happening before our eyes, in plain sight. It is, despite what some people would want you to believe, nonpartisan. I may not be “100% Jewish”, but that makes no difference. It is part of who I am, a legacy I am proud to talk about publicly.

I also stand proud, and loud, in speaking against antisemitism wherever I encounter it. My research has taken me deep into European events before and after World War Two, how one man encouraged and awarded the murder of Jews. How, as head shaking as it seems to anyone with a level of intelligence and common sense, it flourishes to this day.

Right here in America. Squirrel Hill is only the latest example. Hatred against those of the Jewish faith grows quietly, and dangerously, every day.

Many of my friends and colleagues know of my multiple faith upbringing. Many of them have warned me about becoming too public of it, out of fear what may happen and what some might think.

I have no fear. I’m proud of who I am, where I came from, and the history flowing in my veins. History that becomes faith, understanding, and a desire to stand for what is right in every instance.

People are killed here in America every day, based simply on the God they worship, the color of their skin, their political beliefs. Murdered by those of twisted desires, mental illness, sometimes pushed forward by loud and repetitive rhetoric from those who, for some inexplicable reason, neither can nor want to understand the ramifications of their actions.

It’s up to us, those who are personally affected and those with no connection whatsoever, not to raise the volume level of hate and fear. Rather, to use our faith and civility to change the small corners of our world. Put enough of those small corners together, lives and minds are changed.

I seek to do this in honor of Emil. The pot-bellied man who left me with so many lessons, and who today brings to mind the pride I must always feel in my connection to not just the Jewish faith, but to everyone around me.

We are, and must be more, than a single religion. A single color. A single political belief.

We must accept who we are, and then use it to unify people we know and love, and people we’ve never met.

"Zal aundzer gloybn in amunh aun libe firn aundz tsu zeyn inspeyshanal tsu di arum aundz."

“May our belief in faith and love lead us to being inspirational to those around us”.

In any language, it’s something we should all be seeking to emulate every day.

There is a difference having pride in who we are, and being prideful using it to be superior.

Let’s learn the difference, and seek to change those little corners of your world.

Do this in honor of the innocent Jews from Pittsburgh no longer able to hug their families.

The African-Americans who went for groceries and never came home due to someone with racism in their dark soul.

So many more, the list has become endless.

Only we can stop it.

No matter the God we believe in.