A Call for Unity


Photo courtesy of Andrew Stein

Edie Weinstein, Freelance Editor

I walk past flags every day of my life.  They’re outside restaurants, schools, stores, and houses of worship, but I never gave them much thought until this fall, when I walked past countless flags at half-mast honoring a tragedy against my own people. It was blood-chilling.

On Saturday, October 27, the morning of Shabbat, a shooter armed with an AR-15 murdered eleven people praying at Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh and injured six others.  This was an act of anti-Semitism, hostility towards Jews or prejudice against Jews, and it’s not the first occurrence by a long shot. All of the people who were murdered were Jewish. They were all human. They were as human as my parents, my brothers, my uncle, my grandmother, my friends, or my cousins.

In the days following the massacre, my friends were all more than supportive, and they were the reason I could experience some feelings of security during that time. However, many people around me were able to walk away from the hate crime without thought or remorse. They could go about their day-to-day life without a change and not have to deal with the consequences of one man’s decision to murder as many humans who happened to be Jewish as he possibly could, yet I cannot. I can walk away from that reality of discrimination against people’s race without consequences. I can walk away from poverty, I can walk away from hunger, but I can never walk away from this. There will be prayers said for the Jewish community in the following days, weeks, maybe months, possibly years, but there are people in this world who will live with the consequences of these murders for as long as they live, long after the news cycle moves on to another tragedy.  

Not five days after the shooting, I offered a prayer for Tree of Life Congregation during prayer intentions, and behind me, I heard someone ask, “What’s Tree of Life?” Their seemingly insignificant comment saddened and isolated me—that person had already walked away, yet the murders at Tree of Life were filling my waking and sleeping hours; although the notion of isolation was false, I felt like I was carrying the burden alone. This experience made me wonder how many times I have exercised my privilege of the ability to walk away–how many times has a friend confided in me her troubles, and I have acted sympathetically, then walked away and left it with her?  

Last year, I marched on the capital to protest a school shooting. Now, I can’t even remember the name of the school. Have I walked away from the violence that school faced and turned a blind eye to the effects that school must still feel? Yes. Is that acceptable? Absolutely not. I used to protest weapons that kill people, yet now I protest weapons that killed my people.

 The common misconception is that attacks such as the massacre at Tree of Life Congregation are isolated in one moment, in one act; the opposite is true.  There are causes, factors, and effects. One cause is hatred; others are isolation and ignorance. One factor stands out: a person with a heart of hatred can access weapons capable of murder.  Because of choices made by lawmakers against gun control and the easy purchase of weapons, one intent on perpetrating a mass shooting won’t be stymied by proper and thorough background checks. Along with these causes and factors, there are countless effects.  Now, when my Hebrew school teacher drops a book, I jump, fearing bullets. Now, our house of worship needs a security guard.  Now,while we practice our religion, the possibility of danger lurks. 

The only reason I feel semi-alright is the support shown by so many people.  I attended an interfaith vigil at our synagogue, Mount Zion, and I couldn’t even get into the building–I waited in a line that stretched around the entire block and down the street. Although I was, of course, disappointed not to get inside, I was beyond touched and heartened that people cared.  Individuals of all faiths gathered to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people; they all could have walked away, but they chose to care and act.  Many of my friends have chosen not to walk away as well. This kind of unity is the only thing that could maybe stand a chance of making all of this alright.  Nothing less. This article is a call to action. Don’t let another day pass in which you choose to walk away, not care, or isolate yourself or others. Rid the world of hatred like your life depends on it–it might just someday.