By Cheryl Moore
Around the world, every Jew was stunned and grief-stricken by the Shabbat morning shooting on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue building. Because Tree of Life is a few blocks from my home and because I lost friends and neighbors in the shooting, I indulge the feeling that we Pittsburgh Jews experienced it more acutely.
Over the last few weeks, as I have felt the sorrow, rage and frustration that has consumed our nation as it confronts injustice and racism, I have been thinking about lessons learned at the end of 2018. With the hope that you can use them for tikkun olam, I want to share these five lessons with you.
1. Prior to Oct. 27, 2018, I struggled with the saying “Black lives matter.” Of course they do, but I wondered whether it was more appropriate to say, “All lives matter.” After all, isn’t it important to say that black lives are of equal value to every other life in the global community of people? And then, after the shooting at Tree of Life, I heard someone say, “This was all about hate,” and it felt like a punch to the gut.
Of course the shooting was about hate in general. But, at that time, the only hate that was relevant was hatred of Jews. And in that moment, I realized that it is important to say black lives matter explicitly.
In our attention to what, exactly, is happening, we must fearlessly specify and separate. Black men are at risk for being killed by the police simply because they are black. My neighbors were killed simply because they were Jews. As I wanted the world to acknowledge the dangers of anti-Semitism, we must acknowledge the threat of systemic racism. Anything generic or general is hollow, offensive and unhelpful.
2. I work at the University of Pittsburgh, which immediately after the shooting made a strong statement condemning the act and standing with the Jewish community. Yet I heard from many Jewish students who felt disappointment and despair over the university’s response. How could classes, exams and assignments go on as usual? A number of staff members asked me what the students expected, saying, “We can’t close the university.” No, we couldn’t close the university, but there was so much more that we could, and eventually did, do.
Now we have students who are suffering and struggling with the injustice and pain of racism and police brutality, and they want the university to respond with more than statements. As allies, advocates and friends, we must take action. We must create opportunities to support, to learn and to act. We must own our responsibility to our brothers and sisters.
3. After the shootings at Tree of Life, I felt desperately lonely. When friends and colleagues would talk about usual things, I felt resentful. I spent a few months unable to crawl out of my panic, rage and grief. I couldn’t shake the desire to scream, “My friends were murdered at Shabbat services!” Though it is very difficult to know what to say or do, I wanted those who interacted with me to see me, to acknowledge my pain.
My African American friends have told me the same thing. They want to scream, “My people are being murdered!” We must reach out to hear, hold and stand side-by-side with our black friends. Text or call to say, “I’m thinking about you. I know how critical this is. I am an ally.”
4. Be prepared for the people who don’t believe that anti-Semitism or systemic racism still exist. I don’t mean the people who sincerely didn’t realize. I mean the people who refuse to see. Be prepared to put aside your disgust and frustration to respectfully and relentlessly present them with facts, data and alternative explanations to what they think they see. Try to understand why they might not want to see the truth. At the end of the day, however, you may have to continue your work without them.
5. We Jews tend to intellectualize. And, it is important to study the plague of systemic racism and to think through solutions and cures. Don’t, however, repress your passion. Unleash your rage and sorrow and love. After the shootings at Tree of Life, I read all of the reports on modern anti-Semitism. I studied and I learned. What inspired me, however, was the fire in the belly of speakers and writers of all backgrounds. Gut-level, emotional communication created in me a spark of hope.
Don’t repress the difficult feelings. Don’t think that study is the only way to help. Let yourself feel and express yourself with the intensity that is required to address the state of our world.
As I think about these five points, I realize that they can all be distilled down to what we expect of ourselves. Don’t be tempted to dilute or distract from what we know to be systemic racism and injustices suffered by people of color. Work tirelessly for change. Reach out and touch those who are suffering. Let yourself feel and express the anger, sadness and discomfort.
You are not alone. I am here, as an ally, struggling with you.
Cheryl Moore is a nurse and the clinic manager at the University of Pittsburgh Student Health Service. She lives in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. This piece first appeared on ejewishphilanthropy.com.