In the wake of a fire that destroyed the synagogue of the 118-year-old Adas Israel Congregation in Duluth, Minn., this week, Police Chief Mike Tusken addressed the congregants at a news conference. “Your loss is our loss, your pain is our pain,” Tusken said. “We grieve with you, we pray with you, and we hope for healing in the days to come.”
Those comforting words are a timely reminder in a year that has seen two deadly attacks on Jews at Shabbat services, in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif.; that despite the very real concern over increases in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S., there has been an outpouring of support from all faith groups, a balm to the toxic divisiveness of the times.
(A suspect has been arrested in the Duluth fire, though to date there is no evidence that it was a bias or hate crime, according to authorities.)
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf traveled to Lithuania and Poland this week and brought with him the mezuzah that hung in the doorway of the rabbi’s office at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews were killed last Oct. 27 by a white nationalist spouting anti-Semitic venom. The governor visited Holocaust memorials at Auschwitz in Poland and in the forests near Vilnius in Lithuania, and signed the commemoration books there with the names of the 11.
In Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, an art exhibit, “#Hearts Together: The Art of Rebuilding,” was unveiled last week at Tree of Life. As Beth Kissileff reports (“Beating back grief with the language of art,” page 20), the artwork was done by teenagers from around the world to reflect the synagogue’s full history and experience, celebratory as well as tragic. “Art created by children,” she wrote, “was chosen as the language to express what comes less naturally to adults: hope, optimism, uplift.”
These symbols of caring and remembrance bring us a welcome sense of balance, if not full-hearted enthusiasm, as the kind of violent outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence that have plagued Europe in recent years have made it to our shores as well. Our synagogues, like those in European cities, now require security guards. A sign of the times. With it all, and recognizing the need for vigilance, we are fortified in our faith in the future in a land that has been more hospitable to its Jewish citizens than any other in history.