October 28, 2018
Tammy Hepps, Kate Rothstein and her daughter, Simone Rothstein, 16, pray from a prayerbook a block away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by: JEFF SWENSEN / AFP)
As Shabbat ended and I turned on my phone to once again check in with the world, I was startled by the amount of messages and texts I had received.
The words swirled; my brain refused to comprehend. The community in Pittsburgh where I was raised and where I felt so entirely comfortable being a Jew had been attacked. On Shabbat. At a brit milah.
Tree of Life Synagogue is a five-minute walk from the house where I grew up in Squirrel Hill. It's on a quiet suburban street that I had fearlessly biked down with my friends countless times — kippot on our heads. It's the shul where my cousins were bar and bat mitzvahed.
Growing up, Squirrel Hill was the sort of place where, at the age of seven or eight, my friends and I walked 15 minutes home from school by ourselves; where we'd stop at the news stand and hang out with its owner, Mark, who knew our older siblings and our families, and what snacks were kosher enough for us to buy.
It's a neighborhood where we left our keys in the car and our doors unlocked, where the mailman stopped to chat.
It was Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, for God's sake.
How can this happen in Squirrel Hill — where people were so insanely friendly, where the hate felt on the streets was reserved entirely for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens? This incident did not occur in a vacuum. America is on a scary trajectory, and the Jewish people deserve better.
Where is the leadership? US President Donald Trump milked the growing divide in the country to reach the White House. He continues to act in a way that widens that gulf instead of seeking to bridge it.
Last week, when prominent left-wing politicians received bombs in the mail, instead of condemning it unapologetically and calling for unity in the country, he pointed fingers. In a tweet, he blamed the "mainstream media" for "a very big part of the anger we see today in our society."
In 2017, when neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump said that there were "many fine people on both sides," refusing to denounce those who used antisemitic slurs.
But the president is not the only one unable to acknowledge and condemn the scary rise and prominence of antisemitism.
Last week, a video of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was circulated on the Internet, in which he called the Jews "termites" and "stupid" to a crowd of people, receiving laughs and applause.
And this is nothing new from him. In the past, the man has said that "the powerful Jews are my enemy."
Nonetheless, this angry, hateful man has supporters, including prominent figures on the Left — Women's March heads Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour.
Where are the protests from other leaders of the Left? And how is Farrakhan still able to spread his vitriol and hate using social media? Jews are constantly referred to as "white" and members of the controlling class in America by members of the Left. If so, then how come a shul has just been targeted by a white supremacist? The United States needs real leadership — and fast.
Mr. Rogers lived just a few streets away from where this horrific shooting took place. The beloved television personality, who comforted children around the country during the scariest of times, would be appalled by the growing hatred in his own neighborhood.
He famously said: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" I'm desperately looking around for the helpers, Mr. Rogers. I just can't seem to find them.