One Pitt Panther's Reaction to the Pittsburgh Shooting

By Madeline Burns

On October 27 th, I was awoken by an automated phone call. "There's an active shooter in the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city. Find shelter." Fear flooded in. While I was safe in my bed in Philadelphia on that Saturday, I had no idea where my friends were, if they had gone to temple that morning, or if there were other shooters. I sat that entire morning with my eyes bouncing between the news on the TV and my phone, waiting for messages. Group texts came in — my friends marking themselves safe. Some shared that they were huddled in a basement in a different synagogue, or at Hillel that morning, or still in bed. I breathed again knowing my friends, the family that I had chosen, were safe. But then this profound sadness set in. I'd been around the Tree of Life Synagogue many times. Squirrel Hill is a predominantly Jewish section of Pittsburgh and right next to the Pitt and Carnegie Mellon campuses. I'd go food shopping there. I went there last year to buy supplies for the first Seder I'd ever hosted. I'd introduced my non-Jewish friends to kugel and matzah ball soup there. I felt safe there. In that same place, my friends were huddling in a basement, hiding from an armed man intent upon killing them. Images from past genocides came to mind, from the Spanish Inquisition to Russian Pogroms to the Holocaust. Up until that day, I'd thought of those things as history. Sure, someone might paint a swastika on another person's door, but they wouldn't lynch them on the street, right? Surely in 2018 we'd moved on. And yet, here I was, waiting for the names of the deceased to be published from this horrific attack. I remember wondering how many thousands of people had been in my position before, their sense of safety and security shattered, waiting for the names of the dead. Nearly all the optimism I had was gone — this was Trump's America, and those who hated us felt free to stand up and declare it for the world to see.

Later that day, though, I realized that wasn't the moral of this story. In less than six hours, a group called Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue raised over $25,000 for the victims to help cover medical bills, funeral arrangements, child care, and whatever else these families needed. As of the writing of this blog post, that amount has grown to over $238,000. People showed up in droves to sit shiva for the victims. Messages of support came from around the world, sharing in our mourning and offering prayers, strength, and shoulders to cry on. Churches brought kosher food to opened homes, and doctors and coroners were careful to be as respectful of religious laws for Jewish burials as possible. While various individual players have worn the Star of David on shoes, hats, or gloves, the Pittsburgh Penguins became the first U.S. professional team to put the star on its jersey, along with the line "Stronger than Hate," a gesture that would be similarly reflected by all the Pittsburgh sports teams.

On a more personal level, people who I hadn't spoken to in years reached out to me to see if I was safe, to see if I needed anything, to offer ears that would listen and arms that would hug. Through all this, I had a moment akin to the Grinch when he realizes that Christmas doesn't come from a store — maybe it means just a little bit more. Mr. Rogers, a famous Pittsburgher himself, once recalled the advice his mother gave him after the Kennedy assassination: "Look for the helpers." Seeing the way my city and my community around the world came together is what I am choosing to remember from that day and the days that followed.

Book Review: “Greenhorns: Stories”

By Joan Kurtz

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A "greenhorn" is defined in Robert Slotkin's new book, "Greenhorns: Stories" as immigrants who "spend their lives scrabbling for a place in the nation, trying to figure it out and never quite getting it." His collection of short sorties is based on real experiences of some of his family members who came to the United States from parts of Russia and Poland at the beginning of the 20th century. The stories are poignant and sometimes painful retellings of Jewish immigration and eventual assimilation.

The words "greenhorn" and "Other Side" appear in all of the stories. Slotkin uses these words to compare life in Eastern Europe with its pogroms and persecutions to life in the goldene medineh or Promised Land where the streets of New York are not paved in gold but where there is poverty and cultural challenges. Families are uprooted from their shtetl and now have to learn how to be an American. The new generation usually can figure it out while immigrant parents stay locked in the past.

"The Gambler" depicts Aaron, a butcher, who flees to the US with promises to bring his wife and sons over as soon as he has the money. It takes four years but he finally can send for them. "But to do it he had made a great hole in his life, in their life, a hole empty with vast miles and years of absence." In finally accomplishing what he set out to do, "in winning, he lost."

Cousin Bella in "The Other Side" was born and raised on the Other Side but came to the states when she was eighteen. She was world-educated, financially secure and devoted to the arts. Though her eyes sparkled with warmth and caring, there was a dark side that could only be seen if looked close enough. In those cold eyes you could see the horrors she experienced before coming over to America, the ones she finally shared with her daughter much later in life.

Three other stories continue the immigration and assimilation tales. Slotkin concludes with a chapter on "Greenhorn Nation: A History of Jokes," most of which are not politically correct but help us to better understand how we identify as children of immigrants and are called Jewish-Americans.

A Dream Come True

By Rifke Feinstein

As a young child in a Yiddish-speaking home in the Bronx, New York, my mother took me to a few Yiddish plays. I understood every word and I loved the experience. I am no longer a young child, and I live in Cleveland, OH, but my dream to see another Yiddish play came true recently … and what a play it was!

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Three months ago, in the Arts section of the New York Times, I read that there would be a Yiddish version of Fiddler On The Roof. I was overwhelmed, but recovered and bought two tickets that day! I then asked my cousin Helaine, who lives in New York City and could put me up for a weekend (and who understands Yiddish) if she'd like to go as my guest. Her "Yes!" was immediate, and I made flight reservations.

The reviews in the New York Times and the Jerusalem Times were outstanding. The play was being performed by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (Folksbiene = People's Stage), which is housed in the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, New York. The Folksbiene presents both English and Yiddish shows, but this was the first time in 50 years (!!!) that the Yiddish version of Fiddler was being shown in New York for a wider audience.

My cousin and I sat in great anticipation before the play began, and as soon as the young woman, who played the "fiddler", began to play "Tradition", Helaine and I began to cry, and looking around, I saw we were definitely not alone!

The play was true to its original form and the translation was very good. For example, the title was a perfect translation..."fidler oyfn dakh". Tevye was performed by an outstanding actor who also was a singer and a dancer. His joy, his sadness and his love were portrayed beautifully. The dancers in the cast, portraying, either khasidim or Russian peasants, were thrilling.

There were supertitles in both English and Russian, but I think the majority of the audience understood Yiddish, as the frequent laughter came before the translations were fully displayed!

I was home...amongst my people...and I loved every moment of this outstanding performance. And we heard a rumor that there is talk of taking this Yiddish play on the road! Be on the lookout for it...you won't be disappointed!!!

Postscript

The day after I saw "fidler oyfn dakh", cuzzy Helaine and I were out walking. As it was very hot, we went into the 42nd St. Marriott Hotel to cool off. I sat in a chair opposite a young woman wearing a "Beautiful" T-shirt. Carole King was singing in the background and I mentioned to the young woman how nice it was to hear Carole King's voice and look at her Beautiful" shirt which was the name of the Carole King musical. We chatted and she asked me if I had been to the theater yet this visit. When I said I had, she asked me for the name of the play. I only got as far as..."The Yiddish" when she stopped me and said..."Fiddler"!?!?!? "Yes", I said. Excitedly, she then told me that her best friend was the fiddle player who symbolized the "fidler oyfn dakh" in the show!!! Nine million people in NYC, and I met the friend of the woman (fiddler) who made me cry while she played the day before! I love serendipitous happenings and again, I wasn't disappointed!!!