As our peaceful Shabbat ended last weekend, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh was enduring hell on earth. A deranged gunman was bent on murdering as many Jews as he could at the Etz Chaim Synagogue. It’s unfortunately an age old history that my people share.
Yesterday evening my husband and I attended a memorial service for the victims here in Karmi’el. For over 20 years Pittsburgh has been a sister city to our community and the surrounding Misgav Regional Council under the Partners 2Gether program. In addition to the hundreds of local population, we were privileged to have in attendance, over 30 members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim Synagogues from Pittsburgh. Theirs was a pre-planned visit, the beginning of a weeklong tour of Israel. We were able to mourn and pray together side by side. Several of our own Olim were originally from Pittsburgh, making it all the more poignant.
The communities of Misgav and Karmi’el have connected through a close partnership and deep bonds have been forged over decades with the Jewish people of Pittsburgh. It is now a family relationship. Through the years, Pittsburgh has helped our Northern Israel communities, with donations to our local synagogues and in times of our crisis- when we were under a barrage of missiles launched from Lebanon in 2006- they provided much needed prayers and support.
Rabbi Amy Levin of Misgav who served as interim rabbi in Pittsburgh before moving back to her home in Israel in 2016, led the Kaddish. The El Malei Rachamim (G-d of Mercy) prayer was recited by Rabbi Gil Nativ, rabbi emeritus of the Kehillat HaKerem Conservative Synagogue in Karmi’el. Our mayor, Adi Eldar gave a moving speech emphasizing the need for Jewish unity. As his last act as sitting mayor, commissioned a memorial statue to be erected in Karmi’el.
As the eleven memorial candles were lit by members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim, a choir softly sang. Everyone was thinking of friends and family, sharing pictures. The couple sitting next to us showed us pictures of Daniel Stein (of blessed memory) dancing at their daughter’s wedding just three months prior. “Squirrel Hill was such a safe neighborhood. Everyone knew their neighbor. We left our doors unlocked. We walked the streets at night without fear. Anyone was welcome in our shul….”
We had a live stream video link with two members of the Etz Chaim community thanking us for their support. Rabbi Seth Adelson was officiating funerals, but is expected to join the Pennsylvania group later today in Israel. A video montage put together by our community – schoolchildren, soldiers, workers, family, government officials- was played for us. It will be taken back to Pittsburgh.
After the service, the busload of our “extended family” was taken to Kehillat HaKerem/Spitzer Center where the Conservative Congregation hosted a dinner in their honor. It was bittersweet as president of the Beth Shalom Congregation, Deborah Firestone, recounted the day’s events- “We were in shul saying our morning prayers when we heard the sirens. Our security officer, a retired FBI agent called for us to go into lockdown. Etz Chaim down the street was under attack. We usually don’t use our phones on Shabbat, but all at once everyones’ phones started buzzing, and we knew immediately something aweful was happening. We stationed guards at all our doors (they are glass) and tried to pray. Three separate congregations were housed at Tree of Life on separate floors. By 11:30, we received the all clear.”
Both Don Jacobson and Julie Landau of Kehillat HaKerem gave updates of all events at the Conservative Synagogue and a pledge of continued mutual support. “We reach out to you. If there is anything we can do- help you enhance your security, fight anti-Semitism, anything at all… let’s start a conversation of what we can further do together.”
Emails or notes of sympathy, support or encouragement can be sent directly to jewishpgh.org