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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Pittsburgh.

When I’d say this city’s name in years past, it had everything to do with the Steelers or Pirates or the place of my birth.

Now Pittsburgh conjures up nothing but sadness since the October 26 murder of 11 Tree of Life Synagogue worshippers by an armed anti-Semitic thug.

Four months have passed, and Pittsburgh has remained out of the news cycle.

I don’t think Americans have forgotten. But let’s face it: the news of the day involves preparation already for the 2020 elections, April’s Israel elections, the wintery mix of the season and, sadly, a misbehaving billionaire or two…or three. And of course, the abomination that is the Trump administration.

When Pittsburgh “happened” last October, early talk centered on heightened security measures that synagogues from across the denominations were taking. The idea of an armed security guard or even a handful of armed congregants was open for discussion.

It’s nothing new, of course. I can remember living in suburban Detroit and attending a synagogue where weapons were placed in hidden spaces known only by the shul’s security volunteers. The local town police department would from time to time keep a marked police cruiser in the shul parking lot.

One day we came to shul only to see the cruiser’s windshield smashed in.

At my daughter’s suburban Boston synagogue, a crew with hidden communication devices and the meanest panting and drooling German Shepherd greets you at the front sidewalk. A security person will come to you if he does not recognize you and ask for your name and anyone who can identify you at the shul.

Last month I was with a group of 11th grade Spanish class students for Friday night services in Madrid, Spain. As we approached the shul entrance there were two police cars with flashing blue lights. We walked through an angry-looking security detail until safely in the shul.

I thought for a moment that “uh huh, we’re for sure in Europe.” But it didn’t take more than a moment to remember that the most recent shooting of Jews was, indeed, in the free society of the United States.

I only wish that this type of security had been in place on that deadly Pittsburgh Sabbath.

There was also another side to the early talk of the Pittsburgh scenario. That side was the promising support given the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and in many other places from Christians, Muslims and others. Twice I was approached in public places by two strangers, both people of color, expressing their personal sadness for Pittsburgh. I was grateful for their expressions of support.

But since then we’ve witnessed speeches from hate mongers such as Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan rife with anti-Semitic tropes. We’ve heard anti-Semitic words from a U.S. congresswoman from Minnesota. Rows of Jewish tombstones were defaced with swastikas in France during a march against anti-Semitism.

My point: Pittsburgh and all that it represented seems like years ago instead of months ago. The hatred is still there, still hot.

And it worries me.

Still.

I want Pittsburgh to be a name that suggests a beautiful city in which to visit. Nothing more.

We as Jews should not be living with this worry, this fear.

I teach a course covering Holocaust studies to high school juniors.

Some of what I’m teaching seems oddly familiar. I never would have thought that possible.

Especially in the United States of America.

By Phil Jacobs