Over 307 incidents of mass shootings were reported in 2018, according to ABC News, one of which being the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting on October 27, 2018. Mark Oppenheimer, a Jewish journalist who has written for “The New York Times” and “The Wall Street Journal,” visited Andover to discuss the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting and American Jewish communities in his presentation on January 25.
Organized by the Jewish Student Union (J.S.U.), the talk allowed Oppenheimer to share his views on the shooting with the audience members. He claimed that instead of discussing the tragedy of the incident, it is more worthwhile to assess how the Jewish community’s bond allowed them to overcome the tragedy.
Oppenheimer said, “I want to talk about the community, because Squirrel Hill, where this tragic incident occurred, is a very special place. Squirrel Hill is one of the only Jewish neighborhoods in America that stayed thoroughly, resolutely, and proudly Jewish for a century.”
Rabbi Michael Swarttz, the Jewish Chaplain at Andover, believes that the formation of a healthy community is key to overcoming these issues.
“Building strong relationships with others in one’s community and neighborhood has sadly become a lost art as people become more and more isolated and removed from one another. Having these connections helps build a healthy community and resilience in the face of loss and tragedy,” said Rabbi Swarttz.
However, these tragedies do not have to continue, according to Jack O’Neil ’19, an attendee of the event and student leader of JSU.
O’Neil “In order to stop similar tragedies in the future, it is important to first understand why these attacks occur. Mr. Oppenheimer talked a bit on how Jewish people have been a scapegoat for problems throughout history and how this unwarranted blame continues the cycles of antisemitism.”
Oppenheimer highlighted how the history behind Squirrel Hill sets it apart as a Jewish community in America. According to Oppenheimer, Squirrel Hill largely maintained its original demographic.
“Jews as Americans tend to move out of their ethnic ghettos because they want to live in places with more land; however, far fewer people left from Squirrel Hill than expected. They were not driven off when the nonJews came to the town, also when the ultra-Orthodox Jews came,” said Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer felt that the in addition to the tight-knit community, Squirrel Hill was able to recover from the synagogue mass shooting because of its ethnic diversity.
“We are talking about people of multigenerational ties, in an urban neighborhood that is economically and racially diverse, but also has an ethical cohesion of the several groups that live there…They were positioned to resist this kind of hate, and to stay resilient and loving each other,” said Oppenheimer.
O’Neil agreed that the Squirrel Hill community reacted differently from the other towns that went through similar incidents.
O’Neil wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I think the essential difference between the tragedy in Squirrel Hill and other tragedies throughout the country is they way the community responded. This was the first attack on a Jewish place of worship in US history so this is decidedly an unprecedented event. However, the community at Squirrel Hill was able to band together in the wake of this tragedy in such a way that they could deal with national and individual ramifications as a group.”
During his presentation, Oppenheimer explained how the cultural integrations of many ethnic groups in Squirrel Hill was facilitated by its urban structure.
“What is different in Squirrel Hill’s case is that there are boundaries between different ethnic neighborhoods, but they are all pretty compact…I came to learn that priests and rabbis near Squirrel Hill even meet to discuss the religious texts together. It is ironic that the worst anti-semitic killing in history came to the least anti-semitic city,” said Oppenheimer.
As an answer to this challenge, Oppenheimer suggested that a solution to recovering from such tragedies is to foster strong connections within communities.
He said, “People should be in each other’s lives. They should help each other regardless of race, gender, sexuality, and beyond. They should know how to love each other, so that it is easier to recover from potential tragedies like these.”