By Ethan Malzberg ’19
The news broke for me on Twitter. It was Saturday, October 27. While taking a break from college essays, I never expected to scroll past frantic headlines announcing a massacre against my community.
The Monday following the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I immediately went to Ms. Hartz’s office to discuss how we could act. As co-leader of Jewish Affinity Group, I was unsure what my role should be in the healing process of the Jewish community and the greater Pingry community.
Together, we decided that the Jewish Affinity Group should host a Town Hall. There, anyone from the community — regardless of religious identification — could share their reaction to the events in Pittsburgh. Aside from Pingry’s usual norms, we added an additional one for this town hall: attendees were welcome to stand up and share their reactions, but no one was allowed to respond to someone else’s reaction. Our intention in setting this norm was to create a space solely for reaction and support, not debate. It was important for me to allow people to react in whatever way they desired — and given the political intertwinings of any mass shooting, that might mean politics — without allowing something as emotional as this to turn into a place for heated argument.
The Town Hall took place on November 8 during CP. All members of the Pingry community were invited. Teachers, students, and administrators attended the event. Many attendees shared one or multiple responses to the shooting; others simply listened and observed for the duration of the event. Personally, I shared my newfound fear as an American and as a Jew, my distaste for the manner in which our President and Vice President addressed the shooting, and my guilt for not giving myself enough time to process the events immediately after they occurred because I was so busy with schoolwork and college applications.
Mrs. Ostrowsky, one of the school counselors, shared a particularly poignant poem written by Zev Steinberg that brought many at the event to tears. The following is an excerpt from the poem:
“Little boy, what’s your name – do you have one?
Sweet baby, just eight days, what should we call you?
I have heard the sacred circumcision postponed for jaundiced yellow, but never before for bloodshed red.
Is your name Shalom? We long for peace in this troubled world. I hope you are Shalom.
Is your name Nachum? Oh, how we need to be comforted in our grief. I hope you are Nachum.
Is your name Raphael? Our broken hearts and bleeding souls need healing. I hope you are Raphael.
You should have been carried high into the congregation on Shabbat morning – past from loving hands to loving hands – on a cushioned pillow to receive your Jewish name.
Instead your elders fell and were carried out on stretchers in plastic bags. Their names on tags.
Is your name Moshe? Our unbearable anguish and rage demands justice. I hope you are Moshe.
Is your name Ariel? We need the ferocious strength of lions to protect our people. I hope you are Ariel.
Is your name Barak? We need courageous warriors to vanquish our enemies. I hope you are Barak.
The blood on Shabbat morning was supposed to be covenantal not sacrilegious, sacramental not sacrificial, sacred not unholy. The tears were supposed to be of boundless joy not bottomless sorrow.
The cries were supposed to be ‘mazel tov’ not the mourner’s kaddish.”
For those who do not know, a baby’s naming ceremony is considered, by Jews, to be one of the most important moments in life. This is supposed to take place within eight days of birth. As the poem mentioned, postponement of the ceremony is a rarity; the fact that this occurred speaks to the gravity of the Pittsburgh tragedy.
Personally, I was brought to tears by this poem. It made me aware of just how unpresent I had been. It was so easy to hear “9 dead, 10 dead, now 11 dead” in the headlines that eventually, I tuned the news out. It was so easy to fear for my own safety (for the first time in recent memory) and immediately tune out. It was so easy to immerse myself in school work that I tuned my own pain out. Despite having planned this event, I had been so numb that I never processed everything that occurred until I heard this poem: the shooting happened at a baby’s naming ceremony, it wasn’t “just” a normal Saturday morning service.
What happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue is so much bigger than me. Still, I learned that self-awareness and emotional awareness are necessary if I want to help other people heal. I need to take care of myself before I can try to help anyone else.