Earlier today we expressed our deep distress and sadness over the horrific shooting this morning at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our primary focus was and continues to be ensuring the safety of our Jewish Atlanta. In the hours since the first news of the horrific events today, we have heard from many community members seeking ways to grieve and to show support, and vigils are starting to be planned.
We have established a web page – jewishatlanta.org/unitedwestand – to give the community one central place to find information about these gatherings. We will update this page regularly in the coming days as additional services and resources become available.
Today just does not seem real.
This morning I returned from a week in Israel with many colleagues and friends who are, like me, from Pittsburgh. While in Israel, we spent a good bit of time together talking about the threats to the World Jewish Community. As soon as I landed in Atlanta, I went with my daughter to Sabbath services at our Shul. During the service, the Rabbi asked me to leave the sanctuary, and he told me that he had learned of the tragedy in my hometown. I shared a moment of disbelief with a fellow congregant who celebrated his bar mitzvah at Tree of Life in our beloved Pittsburgh. It felt like 9/11 when I lived in NYC.
Pittsburgh is the city I will always call home. It is the place where I always feel safe and secure. It is the Jewish community that helped me with comfort and hope through so much loss. How could there be a massacre in Pittsburgh – in a synagogue? People like me went to Shul like they always do on Saturday morning, and a monster came and killed them. I don’t understand, and I don’t know that anyone can. I later heard one of the victim’s names. I remember him as one of the sweetest people to walk the earth. Now I await the names of the other 10 knowing I will have a connection to many of them.
A part of my job as the CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is to help oversee the security of our Jewish community. We can hire more guards, we can build more fences, we can train more staff, and it may help. But it won’t get to the root of the problem, which is hate. Something is warped in our society, and we need to fix it. Another part of my job is building a strong and vibrant connected Jewish community, and a community that cares about itself and others. We can’t do this if we are afraid and live behind walls and armed guards.
I don’t have the answers, but I won’t stop trying because I believe at our core we are good. In the meantime, I will pray for the souls of those lost today and hope those grieving can find comfort. I will also pray for the continued strength of our leaders like Jeff Finkelstein, my counterpart in Pittsburgh who is helping to hold that community together.
I wish for strength for our community here in Atlanta which knows hate all too well, and I hope this massacre will bring us all together so that we, too, are STRONGER THAN HATE!
Eric M. Robbins
President and CEO