Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers: Reflections on the Shooting Two Years Later

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Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

By Rabbi Jeffrey Myers
As long as we live we will never forget the lives of those we lost on Oct. 27, 2018. We will never forget who we were with and what we were doing, how we responded and what we have done to honor these beloved martyrs of our community.

As we commemorate one of the most significant events of our lives, we still grieve, we still remember, we still survive in a time that continues to challenge us in ways we never imagined. Despite these challenges, we will continue to reach out to teach each other about hope, love and community.

Are we better as a nation two years later? While I cannot lessen the impact of more than 200,000 COVID-related deaths in the United States alone, I have learned that during times of trauma, people’s authenticity inevitably rises to the surface. If you are innately a good person, you will find ways to utilize your goodness to help better the lives of others.


In the days and weeks following the Oct. 27 attack that killed 11 worshippers from three congregations, strangers from across the globe offered condolences, prayers, encouragement and even lengthy, hand-written letters pouring out their tears. As we approach the second year commemoration, good people once again reach out, offering continued support, reminding us that they have not forgotten.

I still believe that deep down the vast majority of humanity is comprised of good people. They reject all forms of “H” (that word is eliminated from my vocabulary), bigotry, racism, and the all too frequent violent acts that often accompany these words. Perhaps during periods of great stress, who we really are is seen in full view, stripped of all pretense and protective gear. Studies have shown that during great stressors throughout history, anti-Semitism rises.

When coupled with so much else occurring in America at this time, some might suggest that it’s no surprise that the proverbial pot is boiling over. Social unrest. Pandemic. Political upheaval. Economic stress. Serious divisiveness. All at once we find ourselves coping with these entrenched daily travails on top of the indelible mark that Oct. 27 left on each of us. Despite it all, we remain resilient and resolute in moving forward with our lives, with plans to rebuild our synagogue as well as our dreams.

There are plenty of helpers out there and we should look to them, in a reference to the famous advice Mister Rogers’ mother gave him as a child when things were upsetting. We, too, must be helpers because they need our support to swing the perceived pendulum in the opposite direction.

It can seem overwhelming to simultaneously take down the bad and build up the good, but the old adage that “if you sit on the fence and watch you will get splinters” applies. We need to disassemble the fences that separate us and use the wood to instead build bridges. We are all more alike than we recognize, and too frequently we allow the differences to define us. We must use our commonalities to unite us in the goal of making this experiment of a mixing pot called the United States successful.

The silent majority of good, decent people have been silent for too long. When will the day come that they rise up, and state with moral clarity, that words of “H,” bigotry, racism and the violence that they inevitably lead to are unwelcome, and do not belong in our society? Where are the Hebrew Bible prophets reminding us of our responsibilities to protect the orphan, the widow and the stranger? It is “we, the people” who are being tested to extreme limits. Will we pass the test?

Each of us can try harder. Do more. Do better. Only the passage of time will show if our collective resolve and hard work creates a unity that truly honors those we loved and lost.

On a personal note, I remain humbled and grateful to still be here among congregants, family, friends and community members who share that place, time and memory of something so profound that happened to us all and changed us in the process. May their memories be a blessing to us forever.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers is the rabbi of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha in Pittsburgh.

1 COMMENT

  1. Rabbi Jeffrey, That is so well stated and I love the heart and soul one sense behind it. My reply may be a bit long but a friend sent the link for your thoughts to me because they are aligned with something I feel compelled to engage. I am a Christian and part of what I long for are perspectives from other faith traditions that call us to love our neighbor with both honesty and grace. If you have time to read my thoughts below and find it in your heart to listen in I would be honored.

    I am been increasingly distressed by the toxic environment of our public conversation. Frankly, my first impulse was to just retreat but then that is one of my character flaws. So, I started asking what I could do. I have friends in both camps (you can name any that you wish) and have heard the same spirit from both sides. So, I have dedicated time to reading from divergent sources and it became obvious very quickly that no matter what side of what issue I explored much of the content was vitriolic and dismissive of any divergent viewpoint. The labeling is incredible.

    So, I have begun to weed through anything with that kind of language or attitude searching for those making reasoned arguments. They are out there. As I have been challenging myself it struck me that I would like to facilitate a venue of conversation where all the labels could gather around a common commitment to the spirit of the conversation. I would also like that venue to represent all faith positions, provided there is a commitment to discovery and understanding rather than demanding acceptance and in its absence offering only rejection.

    I wrote this blog (http://wwlivingstonblog.com/2021/02/06/the-roaring-middle-passionate-reasoned-discourse/) as my contribution to starting and have some thoughts about how to organize things if there is enough interest. Wouldn’t it be great to have someplace to go that can clear constructive expression from multiple perspectives on topics of great importance for our time. I have often thought that true unity comes from wrestling with common questions rather than from common answers.

    So, this is my request:

    1. Read the blog
    2. If it resonates with you say so in the comments and add your thoughts about the principles of conversation.
    3. If you want to do that by email you can respond to this email and, with your permission, I will add that content to the blog.
    4. Consider giving your input on a draft agreement of principle.
    5. Invite others, particularly others on the other side of your fence, to join in.

    If this doesn’t call to something in you, then a simple “no” will be great. We all have different roles to play and this just may not be your bag.

    I am not using a mailing list for this but just going through my contacts and writing to those who I think might want to consider joining in.

    Thanks, for your consideration and let me know what you think.

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