Like the dreidel says, “A great miracle happened there.” With your support of our Campaign for Community Needs, great miracles happen at home, too! This year, as you light the chanukiah, we encourage you to celebrate the everyday miracles made possible by your generosity. Make your gift today or “answer the call” this Sunday as community members make calls for Super Sunday. We appreciate everyone’s support of our Jewish community.
During the Thanksgiving holiday I had the opportunity to enjoy my family, finish an important book, and watch way too much television. Something I am unsure if I have ever done before -- I want to share some reviews.
First, I finally finished Mark Oppenheimer’s important book, Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood. On October 27, 2018, a gunman killed eleven Jews worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill (Oppenheimer calls it “the oldest, most stable, most internally diverse Jewish neighborhood in the United States). This was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.
The book opens with an illustrated map of what Oppenheimer calls the “thriving urban village” of Squirrel Hill. Everything – restaurants, synagogues, churches, homes, etc. – are all in walking distance. The entire area is less than three square miles – no wonder the difficult impact on the community.
Despite the emotional toll, Squirrel Hill came together as a community even more following the tragedy – even at a time in America when there is greater disconnect and isolation from our neighbors and those around us. As one person wrote, “The book is a celebration of an American Jewish community, and a lament for fading Jewish connections.”
Among the many examples of the outpouring of concern and caring expressed by the entire city, Oppenheimer points to the headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the day of one of the funerals, with the first four words of the Mourner’s Kaddish in Hebrew. The entire Greater Pittsburgh area supported one another. One simple example was the response by every sports team in the city.
The book provides a nuanced account of collective grief, love, support, and revival. Community healing is not a linear process. People respond and react in their own way. All of this is a necessary part of true growth and understanding in any community.
The chapter of most interest to me as a Jewish professional is what do you do after something like this? The immediate response for the families? How to address safety concerns at other Jewish organizations? People often feel compelled to donate money, but where? In fact, over $6 million was raised from people all over the world. How do those dollars get allocated? Who makes the final decision? I am proud of the central leadership role the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh played in the communal response effort. Sadly, there is now a “blueprint” if this ever happens again.
It is hard not to get emotional reading and recounting that terrible day in October 2018. I thought about my wife who grew up in Pittsburgh and her stories about the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. I thought about my colleague, Jeff Finkelstein, the Jewish Federation CEO (we worked together in Baltimore 25 years ago) and the emotional impact this must still have on him and the entire Jewish community. Most of all, I think of those who lost their lives and the incredible pain still felt by those families. All because they were Jews.
Oppenheimer’s book is a true lesson in the importance of community. It is a challenging read. Yet, in the end, it proves we are stronger than hate.
Far less Jewish and playing now on Disney+ is a three-part documentary on The Beatles called Get Back. Created by famed director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), this program took four years to put together. Jackson said, “You see these four great friends, great musicians, who just lock in and develop these songs, and you see it all onscreen.”
Watching the series gave me greater admiration for the band and I better understand their incredible talents. They look like (for the most part) they are having fun. Their on-screen chemistry and personalities shine through.
I was struck by the “behind the scenes” look at how these talented musicians and artists did their work. Their musicianship is awe-inspiring, especially considering the deadline they were up against. The band had less than one month to finish recording their newest album, Let It Be, and it was not without its difficulties.
The film allows you to watch them cycle through “material” and turn okay songs into hits. There is one scene where Paul McCartney is getting frustrated when the band was not in sync, leading him to start riffing on his guitar. Everyone stops to listen, and the next thing you know, there is the song “Get Back.” You are a voyeur watching a creative breakthrough.
The film concludes with their famous impromptu rooftop “concert” – their last public performance together. It was the culmination of the joy, the tension, and the amazing way songs come together.
What stood out to me the most was the interaction between band members and the creative process they go through to create a song. I could hear Lauren Goldstein, Chair of the Jewish Federation, saying, “When people come together, great things happen.” Their work emphasized the power of collaboration. A word change here. A musical note added there. Riffing and just playing sounds. Eventually "it" happens. Yes, there are power dynamics and egos involved, but great ideas and talent come to the fore. This documentary allows you to witness how great the outcomes can be.
Before closing, one little factoid that many of you digiphiles know -- yesterday, 12/02/2021, was a rare 8-digit palindrome date. Did you know there are only 12 8-digit palindrome dates in the entire 21st century?
Shabbat shalom and enjoy the remainder of Chanukah.