On Being Jewish & The Deadly Anti-Semitic Attack In PIttsburgh

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When tragedy strikes my internal psychological defense mechanism is to go cold and this is what happened to me upon hearing Saturday that 11 Jews were shot to death at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh because they were Jewish.

This coldness when such atrocities occur, I think, was ingrained in me from my mother, and from my childhood friends – a good number of which had parents that survived World War II concentration camps. While the near-north Chicago suburb of Skokie where I grew up was a majority Jewish, it wasn’t like Brooklyn or New York City Jewish. We all went to public school with a hodgepodge of white ethnicities, and were sent to Hebrew School after regular school only until we were Bar Mitzvah at 13.

As such, we were taught that our obligations as Jews, even more than being religious, was to survive. To not be a victim. To forgive Nazi Germany and the holocaust that took six million lives but to never forget.

So when 11 of my fellow tribesman were killed for being Jewish, it just reminded me of the reality that our history is fraught with such incidents and far worse. As such, I turned frosty. I didn’t want to Tweet my shock, Facebook my opinions or cover press conferences with Jewish and non-Jewish elected officials and civic leaders showing solidarity while scoring political points.

This began to change, however, during the course of the day when one of my biracial children called me to see how I was doing. She never took to my religion, but it really meant a lot to me that she asked how I felt about the killings and expressed her condolences to me. My youngest son also asked me how I felt about the shooting and I discussed it with him.

And then my estranged Jamaican black wife, who lives upstate, texted me a very heartfelt condolence. That woman. I got to tell you, when we get into it, she can say the nastiest things about Jews, but when push comes to shove she loves my people. And as messed up as we are as a couple, she’s ride or die that way. And she gave me and raised with me four great children – all productive human beings. God bless her for that.

And throughout the day, I received a number of calls, texts and messages from friends and colleagues expressing their condolences and showing a great deal of empathy towards me. It took the edge from my coldness, even warmed my heart a bit. It even made me appreciative of remarks of solidarity from elected officials.

It reminded me of something my grandfather used to tell me in his thick Eastern European accent, “You know, Stevie, the longer you live, the more you learn. You live you learn.”

And what I learned from this incident is there is love and compassion and good in people. That it is important to treat others as you want to be treated, and to come from a place of love and understanding. To forgive.

But… you never forget.