Across a crowd of protesters at a march in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, I saw my good friend, my old roommate, the former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill. Our eyes met, we walked with purpose across the crowd, and we hugged. And for five full minutes, we sobbed.
Rabbi Mike Werbow had just left the funeral of Cecil Rosenthal, who attended daily prayer at Beth Shalom every day of the week except for Shabbat, when he went to Tree of Life, where he was killed. His eyes red and welling with unceasing tears, Mike said that a mourner at the first of our community’s 11 back-to-back-to-back funerals had approached him. The mourner related that Cecil had loved having Mike as a rabbi, and a few years ago, when Mike was preparing to move to another congregation, Cecil placed a picture of him on his dresser.
For us in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, there is so much to absorb all at once — emotionally, practically, even logistically. We have bounced from fear to sadness to anger and back again. We are planning funerals and Shabbat services and security arrangements, and we are fielding media requests while trying to remember to eat and sleep. We are going to vigils and dodging road closures for motorcades and talking to reporters, while still trying to make sure to do the dishes and get the kids out the door for school. We are exhausted and emotionally raw. At a shiva service I led Thursday night, the sense of devastation in the room was overwhelming.
Yes, we are Jews. Yes, this came about through the specific kind of hate known as anti-Semitism. But we are not the first to go through this experience, nor are we unique. No matter what motivated the shooter, the results are not different from Newtown or Las Vegas or Aurora or Orlando or Charleston or Parkland.
And, no, this shooting is not a surprise. At all. There were mass shootings before this one. And there will be mass shootings again in the United States.
We Jews in Pittsburgh have received an outpouring of love, solidarity and care from around the nation and the world. People ask: “What can we do?” “How can we help?”
Judaism is a religion of action. We are commanded in so many places by our Torah to do something; to do justice; to care for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan; to tend for the sick; to free the captive; to build a world of loving kindness. We are commanded to “not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor.” Our most central figure is Moses, who reacted to a great massacre against children with action. We are commanded in our Torah to “choose life,” to protect the innocent, and to create a world of justice.
So here’s how to help: Do something.
Help by working to end the plague of mass shootings. By working to cease the plague of demonizing the Other in our society. Stop turning a blind eye to hate speech, and don’t let the news media or social networks tolerate it either, in the interests of so-called free speech. Demand changes to our gun laws so that a person with a membership in a hate group or a person with a domestic violence record or a person with a well-documented history of unstable mental temperament cannot own guns that, in other countries, are reserved only for trained members of the armed forces. Many of our leaders tell us that “dangerous foreigners” are a threat to our country, and that “terrorists” are hiding within groups of immigrant caravans. And yet they sit idly by, they do nothing about domestic terrorists among us and their powerful weapons of mass violence.
How can you help Pittsburgh? Don’t let Pittsburgh be just another name on the long list of communities devastated by mass shootings and hate. Do something, and demand that your politicians do something. The Talmud tells us “shtika k’hodaat dumia” — “silence is assent.” To remain silent in the face of recurring domestic terrorism is to permit it to happen again and again and again.
Mark Asher Goodman lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and family. He is a rabbi for Brith Sholom synagogue in Erie, Pennsylvania.