Over the summer, I had the privilege of visiting the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh with some of my colleagues at Jewish HomeLife, along with other Jewish senior care executives as part of a regional meeting of our professional organization. Seated in front of the sanctuary in the foyer (the sanctuary is still considered a crime scene and is closed), I had chills looking at the handmade memorials of the 11 Jews who were slaughtered Shabbat morning, Oct. 27, 2018. I am still haunted by the experience and continue to think about what lessons could be learned, especially during this High Holy Day season. How does a community forgive the wider community in which it lives after enduring such a nightmare?
I was impressed to learn more about the reaction of the non-Jewish community in Pittsburgh which continues to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community to this day. Upcoming High Holy Day services for the Tree of Life members, for example, will be held at a nearby church. The security expert at the Pittsburgh Federation advised that every Jewish agency in the country needs to have strong ties with its Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors to help ensure each other’s safety against extremists of every political persuasion.
I thought about the Front Porch initiative by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta which began approximately two years ago to help bring together the different segments of the Jewish and non-Jewish populations. While this is still a work in progress, I have a greater appreciation of this effort after my visit to Pittsburgh. Each of us can contribute to building a safer community which promotes the wellbeing of everyone by reaching out to individuals and organizations we may not know but live or work nearby.
One small example of organizations working together within the Jewish community is AgeWell, a partnership between Jewish HomeLife, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Jewish Family & Career Services and the Marcus Jewish Community Center. AgeWell brings together the collective programs and resources of our respective organizations to help older adults navigate the best services available to help them live as independently as possible in their homes. We began this initiative a few years and are now launching an updated website and data system to help track those who need us. A new manager for the program will also begin working the end of this month. Interestingly, Pittsburgh began the prototype of AgeWell more than ten years ago. We are using their experience to guide the collaboration we have created in Atlanta.
From the horror of the anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh, I learned about a city rededicated to building stronger relationships within and outside the Jewish community. Instead of looking inward, the Pittsburgh Jewish community has not only forgiven others who may have wronged them but embraced them. At this time of reflection and repentance, I am inspired by their example to help the Atlanta community do the same.