I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States of America, and my company’s Pittsburgh Office is two miles away from the Tree of Life Synagogue in an adjacent neighborhood. I woke up from a nap in my home in a further away Pittsburgh neighborhood that Saturday afternoon to a text from the director of my office alerting us to the active shooter situation in Squirrel Hill. Many of my colleagues live and worship there, and I was worried for them as I am sure we all were. None of our number were among the dead and wounded, but soon I would hear a good work friend’s husband’s voice on NPR talking about the shooting, the same voice I have heard at parties and events, including their annual Hanukkah party, over many years. That night at the 22nd Annual Halloween party thrown by a friend who grew up in Squirrel Hill and whose family still lives there, I learned from another friend that her husband’s friend’s father had been killed there that day. We carried on the tradition even as we comforted one another and marveled at how so very close to home tragedy had come to us.
I was napping that day because I was sick, and I hadn’t been able to attend any of the vigils or protests that had been held in Pittsburgh–until today. I heard a Jewish coworker of mine, a woman I had hugged in solidarity and disbelief on November 9, 2016, talking in the bathroom about going to a vigil on the lawn of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. I made the spur of the moment decision to walk the two blocks to “Pitt Together: Stronger Than Hate” and found great comfort in the solidarity of the crowd, the music of the students, and the words of the speakers.
The words that touched me most deeply were from Rabbi Daniel Schiff of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. He remarked about the T-shirts so many were wearing that included what he said was usually erroneously called the “Star of David.” He said the proper name was the “Magen David,” or “Shield of David,” and that we ourselves should be a shield for those who need us.
These are terrifying times. But they are much scarier for some of us than for others. The outcome of this election may not further embolden those who would kill you as you practice your religion. It may not empower our federal government to erase you as a human being because of your gender identity or encourage police officers to shoot you first and ask questions never because you have dark skin. Your employer-based health insurance may continue to cover you just as it always has regardless of your medical history, and you may not worry about seeking assistance for your children through the taxes you pay for fear you will be torn from them. But many of us rightly do fear these things. So to expound upon Rabbi Schiff’s charge to us today, I charge us all make our votes be a shield for those who are most vulnerable, who are in most need of protection. Be awake to our common humanity, take the small amount of time out of your day, and give voice to your values. On November 6, 2018: VOTE; because we truly are stronger together.