By Adam Reinherz
Following a meeting with Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh representatives and Robert Jones, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh field office, CEOs, rabbis, executive directors, board chairs and leaders from Pittsburgh’s synagogues and Jewish organizations were greeted by Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto and Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett.
The politicians, who arrived shortly after 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, delivered brief remarks of consolation and hope.
“We of course talked about the tragedy. We talked about security here. We talked about how security is carried out in Israel — what are some of the differences, what can we learn from them,” said Cindy Shapira, Federation’s immediate past and immediate past vice chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, who helped facilitate the visit.
“[Many] dignitaries are coming to Pittsburgh to be with us and help console our community. And while they’re here, we wanted them to meet our elected officials who are also here and care so much, so they have meetings with the governor, the mayor and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, with three of our congressman: Congressman Doyle, Congressman Lamb and Rothfus and also Senator Casey. It’s just to talk and give comfort and we’re grateful for it,” she said. “I’m just trying to help as much as I can with all of the coordination going on, and we’re grateful that so many people from all over the world care so much.”
Before leaving, some of the politicians spoke with the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.
Tom Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania
“I think right now, this is a time for grieving; it’s not a time for politics. But I think in all of our hearts, in all of our minds we’ve got to resolve moving forward how are we going to make this better? How are we going to make our society better rather than divide people? I think that’s the next step.”
What do we do today?
“Today, I think we help people mourn. We just say, let’s grieve, let’s take time to mourn the people we’ve lost and be with the families and the loved ones of those. That’s our first job.”
What message would you share with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh?
“I am grieving with you, with all of Pennsylvanians, and on behalf of everyone in Pennsylvania, we are so saddened by what happened. Moving forward, let’s make sure that we do all the things to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
Bill Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh
How will we get through this?
“Well, it’s not going to be easy. That’s the sad part about this. There’s going to be a lot of suffering, continually — as we get ready and prepare for the funerals, as the court appearances start, it’s going to be bringing this back as fresh as it was yesterday, and it will take a long time.
“The first thing that we need to do is to help the victims’ families. They’re the ones that will suffer the most and they’re the ones that we can have a direct effect on trying to minimize some of that pain. The second thing is trying to pull together the entire Jewish community and allowing the community to understand its allies are 100 percent behind them — and that means all of Pittsburgh.
“We need to be able to show it not only across different faiths, but across any type of barrier that people would say, ‘How we are different?’ and show how we are more alike. And finally it will be a healing process that may take a generation. Hopefully the younger people in our community recognize how evil and insane this hatred is and they’ll look for solutions that don’t try to minimize it but work to eradicate it. That will take time, but there’s 11 people who are counting on us to make sure that their lives are not lost for any half measures, and we owe it to each of them to be able to try and get something that helps to build a better world.”
How is the Jewish community an example in leading and serving as a community?
“It comes from a couple different things. Number one, the Jewish community has gone through this time and time again, not only locally but on a global basis. What happens in Israel on a continual basis is met with messages that not only provide hope but spiritual healing.
“I think that if we look to bring together the greater community of Western Pennsylvania to gather together to say, ‘We do not tolerate hate in any form,’ there are lessons that we can learn from Jewish tradition and religion of how to be able to get that message out. So when I asked the community to help to put together what the information would be for an event that would be a gathering, I’m looking for that kind of advice.
“What are the healing words? What are the lessons learned? What are the ways a message can pull people together? It’s very unfortunate, but it’s a very true fact that anti-Semitism has had many examples where the Jewish community has been able to do just that.”
Is there anything you want people to know?
“My heart is broken. My heart is broken. I know several of the victims. I know the families. I look at the names and I see the fabric of Pittsburgh. … I think of some of the people, the elderly, the Rosenthals, it’s just, I think that when Pittsburghers start to learn the stories of each of these 11 people it will be a lot of sadness throughout this community.”
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Minister of Education
“We are all one. We all stand together. When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the Israeli people feel the pain. … Am yisrael chai.”
How will we move forward?
“Now is the time to be together, to bridge all of the division, to unite.”
Adam Reinherz is a staff writer with the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, a related publication of the Jewish Exponent.