Commemorating Pittsburgh

By Nancy B. Greer
President & CEO
I remember exactly where I was and how I felt when I heard the terrible news from Pittsburgh on that Shabbat morning three years ago—the numbing sense of shock, immense grief for the 11 lives lost and the six people wounded, horror that malevolent acts targeting Jewish communities happen again and again.

In the days following the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue, the worst antisemitic attack in American history, our Jewish community came together to grieve. We came together to resolve that we will stand strong against antisemitism. We will fight this ancient scourge and all forms of hatred with all the resources that we have.

Since that terrible day three years ago, the urgency of fighting antisemitism has increased. The numbers are incontrovertible: ADL’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents shows that 2019 and 2020 were, respectively, the highest and third-highest years on record for harassment, vandalism, and outright assaults on Jews. The results of a recent ADL survey show that 77 percent of American Jews are more concerned about antisemitism in the U.S.

The numbers reflect the times in which we live—an unfortunate period of heightened divisiveness and coarsened public discourse that are accelerants for bigotry and hate crimes. These facts are at the foundation of our work to fight antisemitism. We are carrying out this critical work on multiple fronts, and I’d like to highlight three. 

Puget Sound Jewish Community Statement on Antisemitism
In 2019, the Federation convened communal professionals to craft the Puget Sound Jewish Community Statement on Antisemitism to build greater understanding of antisemitism and to stand strong against hate by acting together. Forty-seven Jewish organizations from across our community’s diversity signed on to the statement, and over 100 elected officials at every level of government, along with prominent civic leaders, signed an accompanying Elected and Civic Leaders Pledge Against Antisemitism.

Non-Profit Security Grants
The Federation, in concert with the Jewish Federations of North America, successfully advocated for significant increases in congressional appropriations for a grant program that funds safety upgrades at community centers, day schools, shuls, and other Jewish facilities. In addition, the Federation assists local Jewish organizations in applying for the grants. Last year alone, Washington State Jewish organizations received over $700,000 in funds to help them pay for necessities like fencing, cameras, and lighting.

Ethnic Studies
The Federation played an important role in shaping a recently released framework for an ethnic studies curriculum in Washington’s K-12 public schools. Federation strongly advocated for a structure that accurately treats the complexities of Jewish identity, heightens awareness of links between misinformation about the Middle East and antisemitism, and avoids false narratives about Israel. We will be keeping a close eye on implementation.

A key to countering and defeating antisemitism is a strong, united community that can help lower the temperature and build alliances within and beyond our community to fight against hate and for justice. The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council has brought Jewish Puget Sound together across our diversity to find common ground, encourage civil dialogue on critical issues, build cohesion, and amplify our collective voice. The JCRC is reinforcing an essential habit of a healthy community—tending the relationships that expand trust and seed collaboration for the greater good.

The resilience of our people will be a continuing source of strength as we work for a hate-free world where there is a welcoming place for all. The words of Pirkei Avot remind us that we are not obligated to complete the work, but we are not free to desist from it. Fulfilling this obligation is a lasting way to light candles for Pittsburgh and keep the Tree of Life community close in our hearts.