Editor’s Note: As journalists, we spend a lot of time talking with officials and community members and distilling it into stories that explore important issues of our time. But we realize that sometimes it is just more powerful to hear it straight from the source. This is one of those times.
I am reeling from the horrifying attack on our Jewish community this past Saturday during Shabbat services at Tree of Life synagogue, home of Tree of Light, New Light and Dor Hadash congregations. I was born in Pittsburgh and chose to make Squirrel Hill my home 18 years ago when my transplant-wife said it was “Squirrel Hill or bust.” Much like the majority of Squirrelhillians, after planting our roots here, we jumped head first into our community’s unparalleled Jewish life — both personally and professionally.
This community has my heart; it has loved and cared for my family and I, and we have loved it hard right back. I am heartbroken by this tragedy, this horrific act of anti-Semitic violence. I am comforted to know that together we will find ways to bring light to the darkness of these times. That is the spirit of Pittsburgh, the spirit of Squirrel Hill and the undying spirit of the Jewish people.
While the wave of support toward my family, the Jewish people and my city has felt like the warmest blanket on the coldest day, I can’t help but feel that apathy persists.
There are so many who are not enveloped, included and cared for. Although social justice and the pursuit of mitzvot has been ingrained in the fabric of the Jewish people since the beginning of time, there is still much work to be done. We must use our voice and our privilege as Jews to stand up with our neighbors and with marginalized communities who have not always experienced the same outpouring of national support as we have seen this week.
For example, when members of the Islamic community are victims of senseless violence — as one member, Abdulganiyu Sanusi, was on Oct. 13 when he was fatally shot while working as a pizza deliveryman — we must support them as they have supported us.
At Repair the World, we are dedicated to working both within and outside of our Jewish community to build meaningful partnerships across Pittsburgh through serving together and fostering meaningful relationships rooted in justice and social change. The time for our collective service has never been more important than now. I pray that the same outpouring of kindness, inclusion and hope bestowed upon the Jewish community in the last few days be replicated for all marginalized communities. To our friends in the Black, Muslim, refugee and immigrant, and LGBTQIA communities, we will stand with you as you are so steadfastly standing with us. Our opposition to hate and oppression will be stronger in solidarity.
Hatred is here. It’s been here and it continues to pervade. As our community has shown the world over the past several days, we will not let hatred stop us from pursuing our daily work for social change. We will not let fear stop us from continuing to build relationships, to listen and learn from one another and to pursue justice. We will continue to use our Jewish values, texts and traditions as guideposts as we address urgent needs in collaboration with local communities and our partner organizations. We welcome your support just as Squirrel Hill welcomed me, and this community continues to welcome incredible support from all over the world.
While I am in pain, I am starting to heal by focusing on the countless acts of love and kindness in this community. You see it on every street corner, on professional sports’ jerseys, at local pizza shops. I feel our community banding together in a mission to heal not only ourselves, but also our fractured world. I hope you’ll join us.
Zack Block is executive director of Repair the World Pittsburgh, located in East Liberty. He can be reached at zack.block@weRepair.org.