The mayor of Pittsburgh described Saturday as, “the darkest day in Pittsburgh’s history.” Throughout this country and around the world, people are sharing shock and grief over the massacre of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This was the largest incident of violent loss of life among Jewish people in our nation’s history. From now on, the word “Pittsburgh” will be synonymous with this evil just as “Charlottesville” is synonymous with the racist violence that resulted in one death and many injuries in 2017. Yet it is essential that we not consign Pittsburgh to the darkness. The people of Tree of Life, the larger Squirrel Hill neighborhood, and the city of Pittsburgh are full of wonderful examples of light and love. I know this personally, because our older daughter and her family live in Pittsburgh. As a registered nurse, Katie worked at the Squirrel Hill Health Center that served low income people including a large immigrant and refugee community. Tree of Life Synagogue was also known for serving the immigrant and refugee community. In fact, that was one of the reasons they were targeted by the gunman in addition to his anti-Semitic hatred. The hatred that killed 11 people, including Dr. Richard Gottfried who shared his services as a dentist at Squirrel Hill Health Center, will not ultimately define the Jewish community or the people of Pittsburgh. Their legacy is faithfulness to the Biblical tradition as they followed the way of God as proclaimed in Psalm 146: 5-10
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
These are dark days in Pittsburgh and in our country, but “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 5)