By Liam Woodworth-Cook
“As a Pittsburgh native, I’m gonna leave my hat on,” said English Department chair Kevin Sweeney, beginning the ceremony. Roughly 30-40 people were huddled in or just outside of the Ortiz Atrium on a rainy Thursday. We were there for mourning and solidarity. As October closed, a white anti-Semite killed 11 people in the Tree of Life synagogue. Two Black people were slain outside a grocery store in Kentucky. Racist, anti-Semitic hate crimes: violence that made the news. Not all of it does. Our ceremony lasted just over an hour. Power and grief radiated in the room.
The school’s choir stood in front of one set of windows. A table with white cloth and 11 candles held the center of the room. Speakers and listeners lined the walls leading out to a solemn crowd in the Noisy Lounge. The mid-morning rain had just ceased. Outside the Ortiz Artium, the Art Club had inspirational quotes printed. Pads of ink next to the pages, people slowly pressed their thumbs and fingers into the black ink and marked the pages of quotes they were drawn to.
After Professor Sweeney gave an opening statement about Pittsburgh, and the longstanding Jewish community in the neighborhood of the Tree of Life, I read the poem “Hatred” by Wislawa Szymborska. Szymborska, a Polish Nobel Prize-winning poet, describes the ever living presence of hatred; how it grows, boils, and festers. Following this, the school choir (led by Professor Pitre) sang a Hebrew song, a harmony shaking our tender sinew in vibration of loss.
A guest speaker, Ann Wrobel, a poet and history teacher in Falmouth, came and read several poems. Professor Sweeney opened the floor to anyone moved to speak, read or share. Jeremiah, a transgender Jewish student, came and read; I have included their piece at the end, an intersectional poem of strength. Another Jewish song was led by a student, Fae, accompanied with guitar, the lyrics being passed out to the circle. This was the moment when the room became a chorus and my eyes, heavy with water, began to shed.
The candles were lit one by one, ceremoniously, after victims’ names were read by several people scattered against the walls. The flames were to burn on and on, symbolizing the power and light of those lost. In a year’s time, the candles will be relit in an act of remembrance. The advising office’s Jodie Lane read a poem. Breaking through the heavy-hearted silence came a playing of the Tibetan bowl by Chuck Ott. The metal bowl sung reverence over the candles’ flames.
We closed in prayer, our President, Joe Cassidy, making a brief speech for unity as a community college, and to take care of ourselves. We are indeed at a time and place for self care. We are in a time and place to give the Earth care.
Healing is not a single moment. Healing is a continuum, a complex and intricate breath. We are in need of collaboration. Of listening. This healing comes as awareness, acknowledgement and action. We are past the time of moderation; anti-Semitism and racism have a long history in our country that still erupts in a myriad of ways. We must address the systematic oppression and erasure of marginalized people, and step forward; with letters, with books, with ballots, with our feet in the streets, with ears listening. And for those of us with shields of privilege like myself, we must use this to elevate and examine our own role in these systems. Whether that be white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, colonialism or the gender binary. We all must make it known that change is coming.
These threats are very real. Hate crimes have continued to rise; police continue to shoot innocent people; the system continues to entrench the poor, tear the middle class, imprison and disenfranchise. Daily amounts of violence are inflicted to people of color, LGBTQ+ folx, indigenous peoples, women and the environment. The time is now. It has always been now. We cannot only look to leaders- it is on us. Learn, listen and fight.
The vigil was a coming together, where minds melted in sorrow and in unity. We share one planet, and one alone. We must march on, and be loud; for we are powerful, and with solidarity in community, we display such power.
I’m A Jew
By Jeremiah Krass
I’m a student at SMCC, an activist and a Jew.
I’m a Chinese Jew.
I’m a transgender Jew.
An American Jew.
An angry Jew.
A terrified Jew.
I’m a Jew and my Jewish family came here to escape genocide. Only a few of us made it.
My great grandmother watched her entire family die before her eyes.
They were lined up in a closet and shot through the door. She escaped genocide.
She found my great grandfather here. He escaped genocide.
I’m a Jew and some of my Jewish family were turned away.
America stopped accepting us.
Some came anyway.
Am I an illegal Jew?
I’m a Jew. My grandparents passed away, one last year and one a few months ago.
They watched Charlottesville.
They watched nazis walk the streets.
They died before they were able to experience the trauma of Pittsburgh.
I’m a Jew. I listen to people say “how could this happen,” but if you’re a Jew too, you know that this has always happened.
Anti Semitism did not start and end with the holocaust.
It will not end with Pittsburgh, either.
I’m a Jew. We escaped genocide and we get a tiny table of Chanukah decorations to choose from at Home Goods and Target for the trouble.
I’m a Jew. My friends are Muslim. They do not get a table of decorations to choose from for their holidays. No one wishes my friends Ramadan Kareem.
I’m a Jew. My cousins are black. They see terrorism against them reflected every day.
In this piece, I am also honoring the victims of the murders in Kentucky.
We mourn the black lives lost to racism as well.
I’m a Jew and I am angry.
Show up for us. Show up for those people who see violence reflected against them every single day.
Show up to the polls and vote your conscience, for people who will care and who will show compassion. For people who will not say things that justify and inspire hatred.
I’m a Jew.
There is a quote that says, “Trees have roots, Jews have legs.”
Jews have been systematically eradicated from every place that we have made our home throughout history.
My family’s legs brought us here, where we have remained.
But we are Jews.
And we know that we must always be ready to walk again.
To the victims, I grieve….
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam dayan ha’emet.
But to the victims, I am here. And we, all Jews, are here. And we who have black loved ones, and are allies to the fight against racism, are here.
We will elevate your voices whenever possible.
And we will continue.