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Pittsburgh’s Jewry needs us more than ever

  • Rabbi Deren
In 1943, my great grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Posner, was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Pittsburgh to secure the foundations of the fledgling yeshiva school.
by Rabbi Asher Deren, The Shul of Blouberg West Coast | Nov 01, 2018

Since then, the school has blossomed into a burgeoning family of robust Jewish community institutions across the Pittsburgh metro, as my grandparents, parents, and hundreds of cousins, aunts, and uncles across five subsequent generations and six continents look back to Pittsburgh as the home base of our Posner tribe.

But this week, all of us, all 15 million Jewish cousins in the extended family of Am Yisrael (the people of Israel), from Blouberg to Bersheva, Joburg to Johnstone, and everywhere in between, stands shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters at the ground zero of our nation this week – Pittsburgh.

When the evil terrorist burst into the Tree of Life Congregation screaming, “All Jews must die!”, he didn’t specify orthodox or reform, conservative or liberal, or any level of observance, affiliation, or political leaning for that matter. All means all. Yes. He was looking for me – and for you too.

He burst into the room as Jewish people around the world were in the midst of reading Hashem’s challenge to Avraham: “Would you offer your child on the altar even if it meant giving up his very life?”

Hineni (here I am),” Avraham replied. “Hineni (here we are),” replied the 11 kedoshim, the holy souls whose lives were taken on the altar of Kiddush Hashem – the sanctification of Hashem’s name – in Pittsburgh.

On the one hand, we know that Hashem then tells Avraham that more than dying for our faith, it’s living for it that counts. Don’t sacrifice your son. Yet, even then, there were casualties. Sarah, Avraham’s wife is overwhelmed by the perceived tragedy of her son’s death, and she passes away from a broken heart.

Perhaps, being the prophetess she was, she foresaw that while Yitzchok her son was saved from sacrificial death, many of her other children, including 11 of them living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wouldn’t be that lucky. And that broke her heart.

And so, this week, we live with Chayei Sara (the life of Sarah) that picks up after her sorrow and death, by reigniting the candles that went out, and reopening her tent that lost its divine lustre on her passing.

As much as the Jewish world is looking to Pittsburgh today, Jewish Pittsburgh is looking back at us as well.

Our matriarch, Sarah’s, family responded to her death by her son, Yitzchok, establishing the first Jewish family and home; the match made between Yitzchok and his cousin, Rivka.

This week, each of us needs to find our “match”, our challenge in the world, and embrace it by strengthening our Jewish pride, faith, and heritage.

It’s no coincidence that Pittsburgh, with its famous three rivers, is known as the “City of Bridges”. Like Pittsburgh, we need to build bridges and make matches, between one Jew and another, and between every Jew and their heritage.

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