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When It Can’t Happen Here, But Does – Growing Up Near The Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill

My sister Debbie and I have probably been to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood where we grew up a few dozen times for bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and other services. That was mostly long ago when schools and places of worship were safe and sacred places. Very long ago.

For us, the mass shooting this Saturday morning evoked the interviews we’ve all seen in previously unheard of places where someone is saying “we never thought something like that could happen here.” Now the voices sound eerily like our own, because they are.  What happened was so unimaginable that Rabbi Chuck Diamond, who was my classmate from kindergarten through 12th grade and now leads the temple down the street from Tree of Life, said they’d never even discussed the risk of something so horrific with his congregation.

The odds of an active shooter on the streets where any of us grew up or live now are small, statistically. But politically and culturally they are growing larger every day thanks to the toxic stew of hate crimes, mental health issues, intolerance, and divisiveness; compounded by the failure of elected officials to advance even the most modest gun safety measures that the vast majority of Americans support.

I wish I could say I know how this will change, but I don’t. But I hope the Share Our Strength family and others engaged in community find some solace, as I do, in the network of good hearts and helping hands they have helped build from one end of our country to the other. While unable to shield innocents from the carnage wrought by a mad man, we can at least know that for each senseless tragedy there are thousands of other children and families whose suffering we have eased; for each round indiscriminately fired, there are thousands we’ve thoughtfully and intentionally protected from pain and struggle. This is something at least to hold onto until the world rights itself, this and the words of the Greek poet Aeschylus:  “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

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