Itkin and his family have received their share of anti-Semitic slurs. It’s not common, he said, but it happens. “People have hate in their hearts. We’re in a different era,” he observed. Pittsburgh’s attack led him to schedule a security meeting with law enforcement for next week, and he’ll have to consider “precautions that European Jewish communities take”: armed guards, locked doors, increased security. But Itkin believes that the real way to fight anti-Semitism is with kindness and mitzvot, or Jewish commandments. “If you want to fight this evil, you fight it with light, by doing good deeds, good acts of kindness,” Itkin told me.
This is the prevailing response to Pittsburgh in small Jewish communities: Join together with Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike to remember those lost, but also to move forward and build community. Dozens of Jews from across the country—ranging from small cities like Omaha and Norfolk to towns like Peabody, Massachusetts, and Waterville, Maine—emailed me to let me know, proudly, that their communities were hosting vigils, remembering the Pittsburgh victims, and refusing to be afraid.
Kurt Love, the board president at the Temple of the High Country in western North Carolina, has been heartened by his town’s response to the massacre. His synagogue has no full-time rabbi—a rabbi flies down from New York one weekend a month—and the number of Jews varies seasonally, since it’s mainly a vacation spot. “The level of support we’ve seen from individuals and organizations across the spectrum has been humbling and overwhelming,” Love told me, pointing out that the vast majority of nearby residents are white and Christian. “The strength with which the local population has come out and said this is wrong, and this is not who we are as Americans, and we are here to help you in any way we can has been inspiring,” he said.
Those connections to the Boone, North Carolina, Christian community didn’t emerge out of nowhere. The town’s religious leaders formed an interfaith clergy group in 2015 after a white supremacist killed nine people in a shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, just a few hours away. At first, the group didn’t meet regularly—the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub in 2016 brought its members together again briefly—until the August 2017 Unite the Right Rally organized by the alt-right in Charlottesville, Virginia. Love’s message from all this: “If such a thing is possible in this predominantly white, evangelically Christian region, surely other communities can do it as well.”
Twenty percent of American Jews live away from major metropolitan centers in the northeast, South Florida, and southern California, primarily. “The other 80 percent should start talking to the 20 percent,” Brown, from South Bend, told me. “What does it mean for the Jewish community to say we support everyone, but 20 percent you’ve just left behind or forgotten?” Brown said that people from communities like hers have a lot to teach their counterparts in cities like Los Angeles or Miami.