Monday, Nov. 5, was my first time in the Pittsburgh community. I had a flight booked to New York on Thursday night, but I called Delta and asked if I could make a six-hour stop in Pittsburgh, so I could lend any support or condolences on behalf of our community in Georgia. Delta graciously waved the $1,200 last- minute change fee.
I’ll share three things that I found to be unique and uplifting. It always works that way – those that come to inspire end up inspired:
I started my day at the shiva for Mrs. Feinberg. After the formal service had ended and everyone left, I stayed to talk to Mrs. Feinberg’s brother and two sons that were sitting shiva. Her brother was from Toronto and knew my uncle and cousins in Toronto well. Her son shared with ease his mother’s story about how she never missed a day of shul for two years, how he found out the news, etc. We talked for an hour like family. It was amazing that not only did all those coming to share support feel like one family with the mourners, but the mourners themselves felt completely comfortable with total “strangers” visiting them. The conversation was of people that “know” each other.
At the shiva I met Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, the executive director of Chabad of Pittsburgh, and his son, Rabbi Chezky Rosenfeld. The elder Rabbi Rosenfeld is a legend in Chabad who has overseen the expansion of one of the largest Chabad communities in America and is not just a rabbi, he’s a rabbi’s rabbi. The rabbis were tending to the community in a laser-focused self-sacrifice that was inspiring.
When Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld told the mourners that he launched a national campaign to affix 1,100 new mezuzot on Jewish homes, their faces lit up in a way that showed the power of how a mitzvah connects all of us. Consider putting a mezuzah on your door or inspiring a friend to get one if you already have one. Do it in honor of the holy souls from Pittsburgh.
After the shiva I went to see the Tree of Life synagogue, the place of the massacre. There were about 30 people looking at the memorial that had been created in honor of the victims. A lady got my attention and pointed to two elderly people standing, visibly emotional, by the memorial of David and Cecil Rosenthal. “I think that’s their parents. I figured you should know,” she said. There were no other rabbis there at that time, so I walked over, introduced myself and offered to recite a prayer with them. We said a psalm from tehillim in Hebrew and English, prayed for their souls, the family and all of humanity. It was an extremely emotional 20 minutes. We shared contact info. so we could be in touch later, and took a picture together. As we were leaving, David and Cecil’s sister looked at me and said, “Wow, Georgia, another state. It’s unbelievable the support that has come from all over the country and the world.”
There was a tremendous reminder in those words, that the Jewish people may be scattered across different states and ideologies, but at our core we are one people with one heart.
There are 11 people that won’t be in their regular seats in shul this week. If their life inspires you to go to shul this Shabbos, then not only have you gone, but you’ve brought them with you. #showupforshabbat #mezuzah #mitzvotforpittsburgh
Rabbi Isser New is the Georgia associate director of Chabad of Georgia.