Letters: ‘We Are Collectively Heartbroken at Our Loss of Innocence’

Readers respond to Franklin Foer’s reflection on the Pittsburgh synagogue killings.

Matt Rourke / AP

A Prayer for Squirrel Hill—And for American Jewry

The Pittsburgh synagogue killings, Franklin Foer argued last week, show that dormant hatreds have reawakened. In the wake of the massacre, he wrote, “any strategy for enhancing the security of American Jewry should involve shunning Trump’s Jewish enablers.”

I am a former congregant of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. I have lived in New York for almost 30 years. I see many former Squirrel Hillers on Facebook mourning over the loss in our community, and realize that we grew up in such a special place that most of us, no matter how long ago we left, continue to feel like members of this community. We are collectively heartbroken at our loss of innocence.

Foer’s article resonated because since the 2016 election, I have gone through a metamorphosis as a Jew. My people is no longer an inclusive term. I am ashamed by people such as Jared Kushner and Steven Mnuchin who seem to put money and power before basic human decency. I am just as embarrassed by Jewish people who put their blind loyalty to Israel before any intelligent thoughts of the United States’s future, as indicated by their votes for the current president. I am no longer as strong a supporter of Israel as I was for reasons that originate both here in the U.S. and in the Netanyahu administration and my perception of the abuses wrought on the Palestinian people by “our” country, Israel.

This past year and a half has seen a painful transformation of my identity. I wonder why some lack the Jewish values I was raised with, such as the consciousness to support those less fortunate that Foer mentioned. I am guessing they did not grow up in communities that teach their members to give back, like Squirrel Hill.

The brothers killed in the shooting were both developmentally disabled and in their 50s. My mother and many others knew them; they used to work in their parents’ store and were always out and about around the business district. The brothers were, according to one of my family friends who was married at Tree of Life, “fixtures” in the synagogue, where one of them manned the doors on Shabbat. The way they lived independently there is indicative of our community.

Thank you for the article, Mr. Foer. It is a comfort at this most difficult time.

Stefanie Weiss
New York, N.Y.

My wife and I had a similar experience to Foer’s at a Dutch Synagogue in 1997. I thought about that experience this afternoon and posted the following on Facebook:

This is America today.

Traveled to Amsterdam 20 years ago. Went to temple for Friday night services. Was met by armed guards. They wanted to know why were there and how we found out about services before they let us in. We thought that would never happen at home.

Little did we know...

The doors to my Synagogue are locked all the time. You need a key card to get in the building. At Friday night and Saturday mornings we usually have two armed police officers at the doors. We used to worry about foreign terrorists. Now we worry about home grown terrorists as well.

The tragedy in Pittsburgh shows why we take these precautions.

Michael K. Ferry Sr.
Charlotte, N.C.

I am a native of Pittsburgh now residing in the D.C. Metro area. Foer focuses on and highlights in this piece the tragedy and idealism of Jewish history, and as an African American, I can relate to the struggles, strife, and strides made throughout time. Pittsburgh, however, has a complexion of its own. The city still reeks of a great racial and economic divide. The disenfranchised white and black communities have only one difference: the “white privilege” that does little to elevate the former still consumes the latter with misplaced perceptions that stir the pot of anger, despair, and frustration. Perhaps that is what Robert Bowers was feeling when he allegedly committed this unspeakable crime. Unfortunately, the willingness of HIAS to extend its benevolence to a wider demographic sparked the anger, frustration, and despair that remains a vivid stain on the fabric of American culture.

Rhonda Pierce
Alexandria, Va.

The title of Franklin Foer’s excellently crafted article caught my attention, because I’m a strong supporter of Israel and the Jewish people.

I mourn with Foer over the tragedy in Pittsburgh, but I was dismayed that he found it necessary to build the article up so he could tear down our president, without legitimate cause. Trump has stood with and done more for Israel than any president since Truman. Does the fact that his daughter is a convert to Judaism mean nothing? And just who are “Trump’s Jewish enablers?” Why not bash those on the opposite side of Trump who feel it appropriate and even virtuous to stir up “rage”? How is that not an ingredient in our current, vicious climate?

It feels to me that Mr. Foer wrote this article to advance a political purpose. Knowing how raw and deep Jewish wounds go, I wouldn’t fault him for getting caught up in the moment of a tragedy. But isn’t the best way to rid the world of hate to expel it in any form, including hatred for those we disagree with?

Nancy Freund
Cleveland, Ohio

Franklin Foer replies:

The relationship between politics and religion requires a treatise, so I won’t do justice to the critiques of my article here. But I would like to correct a misunderstanding.  My argument didn’t call for expelling Trump supporters or voters from the religion. I would never argue that, or anything remotely like it. I do, however, think that there are leaders of the Jewish community who have influence with the president; they fund the president and they serve in his administration. They provide Trump with political cover while he foments racism and anti-Semitism. This complicity is abhorrent. Jewish communities, now under serious threat because of the president’s rhetoric, shouldn’t celebrate the likes of Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, and Sheldon Adelson. They shouldn’t accept their money or invite them into their buildings to speak. This is a time-honored method for pressing for political change. When we damage the status or prestige of a regime’s elite, they are then incentivized to distance themselves from their leader. I know this is a controversial argument; I have my own doubts about its efficacy. But morally, at this moment, I don’t see an alternative.