Jewish Pittsburgh has much to be proud of.

In the months following Oct. 27, 2018 — the day a white supremacist gunman killed 11 worshipers at a Squirrel Hill building housing three synagogue congregations — people across the country have told us how inspired they were by our Jewish community, looking at us from the outside and witnessing our unity. Our solidarity extended beyond demographic bounds, including those of denomination, neighborhood and age. 

We held each other up as our spirits crumbled, showing the world that we were indeed stronger together.

As a people, Jews have historically struggled with conflicts among themselves, whether disagreeing on the role of halacha or the politics of Israel.

There’s a reason the old adage “two Jews, three opinions” is so funny. It’s based on reality. 

While decades ago, Jews were careful not to air their grievances against each other in public, that no longer holds true. Rather, Jews populating various denominations, and some social action and lobbying groups, seem all too eager to point fingers at one another, each perceiving themselves to be “holier than thou.” The rise of social media has made matters worse, and what in the early- to mid-20th century would have been a matter of private and internal discourse is now trotted out in the public square. 

Although throughout this past year the differences among Pittsburgh’s Jews remained, they became secondary to our cohesiveness. After being targeted with the most violent anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, for one brief moment — a moment that extended throughout the year — we showed humanity that we could, in fact, act as one people. 

We are not so naïve to think that our differences do not persist. They do, and they are many. But as we move forward, let’s use this past year as our guidebook in how we can live together in unity. 

There’s an old joke about a Jew stranded on a desert island for 15 years. When his rescuers finally come, they ask him how he was able to keep sane all alone for so long. He tells them that it was his faith as a Jew that saved him. 

How so? they ask. 

He takes them on a tour of the island, and points to two huts he built, each of them representing a shul.

“Two shuls?” his rescuers query. “Why did you need two shuls?”

“This,” he says pointing to one hut, “is the shul I go to.”

Then he points to the other hut. 

“And this one,” he says, “is the shul I would never go to.”

As we gathered together for funerals and vigils and security briefings and concerts and study groups this past year, we were all in the same hut. There was no second hut. 

Let every Jewish community remember that as we begin our new year. JN


This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.

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