PITTSBURGH (JTA) – The universe cracks. That’s how you feel when a beloved family member is violently torn from this world while she or he is at prayer. That’s how 50 families half a world away feel right now in the wake of Friday’s violent attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which claimed the lives of at least 50 people.
I know because only six months ago, I was in their shoes. It’s like I am stuck in a cruel time machine taking me back to Oct. 27, 2018, when my mother-in-law, Joyce Fienberg, was among the 11 Jews murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue here.
New Zealand may be halfway around the globe, but it’s the same story of hate and violence against people peacefully praying to their Creator. I wish I was there to comfort the families and help support them in their pain and agony. I can’t stop crying for those left behind, especially the children. Children who are old enough to understand that there is loss, but don’t understand the meaningless and utterly insane hatred that spawned it. Remembering the look on your children’s faces when you told them that their grandmother is dead from hatred haunts you every day.
To the families that are reeling, I want to say that we in the Jewish community are your siblings; we are all children of Abraham. We are appalled at this attack and mourn your loss deeply. We pray for peace, and I personally will pray today that your families are sitting beside Allah in paradise.
In October and November, the biggest gift that the Pittsburgh community gave to my family was space and deep love. We had space to mourn – the reporters and politics were kept away from us in a bubble made of love and unbreakable Pittsburgh steel. We continued to feel this love through boxes and boxes of letters, stories, poems and even quilts – all sent to us from strangers around the world, including our friends in the Muslim community. This ongoing love is what still helps me get out of bed every day.
Regardless of the distance, these families in New Zealand need your love, respect and space. They need to know that 99 percent of the people in this world are amazing, loving people. They need to know that their families are not defined by the way they died, but by the way they lived.
Today I don’t have an answer, any more than I did six months ago. Today all I have are tears. Tomorrow, maybe, we can all work together to find a solution and a way to protect all of us, especially when we are at our most vulnerable.