Simone: I never thought that I would have to watch my eight-year old sister crying in our synagogue because she didn’t understand why all the adults around her were breaking down in tears, wailing over the lives that were lost, and the sense of safety that will never return. Yesterday my sister told me and my mom that she never wants to return to our shul. This place that was supposed to be safe, supposed to be a place where Jews could go to be wholly themselves was tainted by the fear that we all felt as we were under lock down in our shul unsure if we were safe, and praying that everyone in Tree of Life would come out alive.
Aniya: When I woke up that morning, and saw what had happened, I immediately thought of my Jewish neighbors and friends, and the vibrant and wonderful Squirrel Hill community I’d lived in my entire life. The Jewish community has been a steadfast supporter and ally of the Muslim Community and I was appalled by how such violent and horrific hatred could have infiltrated a peaceful place of worship and community. I feared for the safety and wellbeing of my friends and neighborhood.
Simone: Both of our religions teach us to love, and to respect those who are different from us. Ram Bam teaches us: שֶׁאֵין שָׁם שִׂמְחָה גְּדוֹלָה וּמְפֹאָרָה אֶלָּא לְשַׂמֵּחַ לֵב עֲנִיִּים וִיתוֹמִים וְאַלְמָנוֹת וְגֵרִים. Meaning,“No joy is greater and more glorious than the joy of gladdening the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the strangers”. I hope and pray that everyone can learn from this message of love. It is in these times that we look to the allies around us, the wonderful neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, all the people that are here today to spread love, to come together, and to help each other in any way we can. It was so wonderful at the vigil Sunday night to see all the different clergy on the stage, and to have my Muslim friend here beside me, who understands what it’s like to be a part of a marginalized group in America.
Aniya: I feel so deeply for the Jewish community, the Tree of Life synagogue and the families affected. The Muslim Community and I stand with you against this hate and violence. United as a city of brothers, sisters and allies we will not succumb to this terror. We can learn from this passage in the Quran which states:
meaning “Humanity is but a single brotherhood: so make peace with your brethren”. As a Pittsburgh community, a diverse one, with a variety of religions, races and beliefs, we must come together as ONE. Our differences are not what define us, and will not separate us. They must bring us together, as one humanity, committed to the bonds of friendship, community and peace we have for one another.
Simone: Tree of Life was targeted because it is Jewish, but also because they showed support for refugees. It is a Jewish value to help refugees, to welcome people into our country with open arms, since we know what it is like ot have nowhere to go. During this period of mourning we welcome the families of those who were killed into our hearts. We must spread the opposite of hatred: respect, and acceptance. We strive to respect and accept our neighbors in Pittsburgh. Looking out at this crowd, and seeing all the support around the world for the Pittsburgh Jewish community is uplifting it proves that there are so many more people in this world who believe in the message of love than in the message of hate. We must condemn words of hatred. Words have such power. Rhetoric against Jews and refugees allows a system of hate to flourish. Being silent is not an option, letting things slide is not an option, saying it’s just a joke is not an option. Spreading love is a non-partisan action.
Aniya/Simone: Whether I sit down to pray in my Masjid, or I sit down to pray in my shul we all deserve the freedom and ability to practice our religions in peace and feel safe and loved by the people around us. America boasts the idea of freedom of religion and expression. This attack dismantles these paramount principles. This is not only an event that happened to Pittsburgh, this happened to all of America.
There is a before and there is an after. We are in the after. Things won’t be the same, things shouldn’t be the same. We know this story will fade from the news, and gradually from your minds, but we pray that you remember the large affect even just one life has on the world, and that you remember the sense of community and kindness you feel today, and continue to spread love.
Simone: We felt as though we needed to end with something impactful, but the truth is there are no words to encompass what we are feeling. We have watched the people we looked up to sobbing, seen the pillars of our community crack just a little. I know that the Jewish community will survive, but it is hard to give words of hope. It feels as if the world is at a stand still, that my community won’t be able to move on. I know that this will strengthen our community, this tragic event has brought us together, and yet at the same time there will always be a shadow in the background, a reminder of the kind, and gracious people lost. These are the thoughts in the back of my mind. I know that someday my sister will feel a sense of normalcy in shul again. And I know that I must fight to remind myself if we spread kindness if we never forget the names of the people lost, and never forget the impact they had on our community we can grow a better neighborhood, and people from that neighborhood will go out and grow a better city, and the people from that city will go out and grow a better country, and the people from that country will make a better world.
Am Israel Chai, Thank You