On October 27, 2018, around 9:45 a.m. and on a peaceful fall Saturday morning, The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, PA, was dealt a hard blow by a senseless act of savagery, an act so brutally heinous it severed 11 branches of varying ages from the trunk of the one-hundred-fifty year-old tree.
Soon thereafter (and for a long while henceforth) the sturdy tree’s canopy of rich foliage morphed into a somber black awning under which the traumatized congregation and supporters from all faith traditions stood, shaken and bewildered, at the numbing gash inflicted on this house of worship. They paused to express their grief, and to mourn, and to reflect, and to bond, and to begin the long process of healing. And across the country and the world peace-loving women and men of goodwill joined in support.
Thirty years ago La Belle Femme and I had the privilege of travelling to Jordan, The West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel on a fact-finding trip in company of 13 other peace-loving American activists of Jewish, Palestinian and other backgrounds.
M.Z., the leader of the group, resided in Pittsburgh, PA. An accomplished scientist of international repute, M. has for many years been associated with the University of Pittsburgh.
For some reason I was convinced that because of M.’s progressive philosophy and activism, he would no doubt be a member of The Tree of Life’s congregation, a congregation that has had a long history of supporting social issues affecting the lives of the weak and disenfranchised.
And even though we had not communicated during the last 29 years, I wanted to be assured that M. and his family were safe. After a quick online search, the following email was sent to M.
I am not sure whether you are the same M. with whom Rachel and I travelled (under your leadership) to Jordan, West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel [during the 1988 Intifada].
In spite of the difficult situations we faced, the trip stands out as one of the highlights of our lives. We think about you, Maria, and the others frequently.
All this to say that the tragic news of the dastardly attack on The Tree of Life Synagogue has unnerved us. We are hoping and praying that you and your family are safe.
If this email is going to the wrong [M.], please help us locate a dear friend, one whose moral compass points due north. We know for sure that M. was in the medical [scientific] field.
Thank you in advance.
Sincerely and Salam,
Raouf and Rachel Halaby
Within seconds M.’s autoreply informed us that he was attending a conference in San Diego, CA.
Fifteen minutes later I received the following response:
Dear Raouf and Rachel,
You have reached the right [M.] and through me my family. What a comforting note you have sent. Indeed, the trip remains a blessed memory. I only wish that the events that have unfolded since that time 30 years ago could also be described as blessed. But events in Israel/ Palestine and in the US are dark.
The building where today’s tragedy occurred houses our Jewish Congregation and we know of at least two people who were hospitalized, one a dear friend.
My wife and I have actually recently retired and moved to Cape Cod, so we are physically removed from this terrible event, but nonetheless greatly affected.
Your note is greatly appreciated and I hope that now that we have reconnected we can remain so,
In Peace, [M.]
Lest I dishonor the memory of the deceased and impinge on the wounded, I do not wish to use this forum to point a finger at all those responsible (from the highest level on down) for creating a climate of hate, anger and vile behavior.
Instead, I wish to rejoice with my friend M. and his family for their safety, and my earnest hope and sincere wish is for a speedy recovery to the wounded hearts and strong branches, including those who put their lives on the line to protect the public.
I firmly believe that because of its resilience and tenacity, The Tree of Life will endure this deep laceration and emerge a strong and vibrant tree under whose wide canopy future generations will find comfort, hope, peace, harmony, and good will.
Now that M.’s path and mine have re-converged, I look forward to catching up on 29 years of news.