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An Unprecedented Year

Posted by Brian Schreiber on November 1, 2019

I distinctly remember two phone calls my wife and I received shortly before 10 a.m. that day. “Are you in shul? The street is blocked by police cars,” the congregant inquired. We replied that we were out of town and not at synagogue. A minute later the phone rang again. It was Sam Schachner, president of Tree of Life, who informed us of an active shooter situation in the building and that people were beginning to head toward Shady and Wilkins. I quickly replied, “Tell them to go the JCC. We’ll figure it out from there.” We immediately returned to Squirrel Hill.

Such was the beginning of an unprecedented year of response, through experiencing wide ranging emotions, learning, healing, resiliency and other attributes too numerous to mention. This has been a year like no other as we continue moving forward in unfamiliar territory.

The aftermath of Oct. 27, 2018, continues to be the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and often the last thing on my mind when I go to bed. My waking moments are defined by an ongoing journey of collaboration to create a playbook not yet written for our neighborhood, our city and both the local and American Jewish communities. That emerging playbook integrates how we regain a new normalcy and comprehensively support individual response to trauma with an unshakable resolve to safeguard the vitality of our community and a determination to ensure that good can come from evil.

I have been privileged to participate in a planning process convened each week for nearly a year through the U.S. Attorney’s Office to support our community’s response and the establishment of a new resiliency center, the 10.27 Healing Partnership. I value the tireless efforts of multiple stakeholders, including the JCC, Jewish Federation, Jewish Family & Community Services, Center for Victims and congregations Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life and others who have worked painstakingly through previously unchartered waters and will continue to do so for years to come.

Midway through the year, we were joined by three victims/survivors most directly impacted by the aftermath of 10/27. Each moment with them touches the depths of my soul and rekindles my determination to keep moving forward. I cherish the time to be in their company and recognize that my own pain pales in comparison to what they live through each day. Hosting our new friends from Parkland/Coral Springs, Florida, supported my belief that we can bring people closer together through relationships and shared experiences. We cannot fix what is broken, but we can help support the future we aspire to create.

While my own level of observance has not changed over these past 12 months, my inner connection to my spiritual self has deepened. I find myself with less anger and more openness to reflection. I am more comfortable grappling with questions than quickly coming up with answers. I feel a deeper sense of gratitude for the people and community around me and more open to hearing opposing points of view. There continue to be triggers every day that I must acknowledge as I learn to accept “life on life’s terms” through uncertainty and vulnerability.

I have deep gratitude for the many blessings in my life.

I am blessed to have a wonderful and supportive family around me, all of whom acknowledge that the impact of 10/27 will always be with us, but will not let it define us. I am saddened that my two children have been displaced from their place of worship and forced to grow up and face some difficult realities far sooner than they should.

I am grateful to lead a workforce of committed and caring professionals at the JCC who rose to every challenge over the past year and wholeheartedly believe in our mission and core values along with the true partnership of lay leadership who are always with us every step of the way.

I am blessed to work and live in a community I love and a neighborhood that so often embraces the values that are near and dear to me of all races, faiths and backgrounds.

I am grateful to often be in the company of my spiritual advisor, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, and in admiration of his ability to speak to his beliefs on a national stage while directing the day-to-day rabbinic responsibilities of our shul with as pure a sense of emunah shlemah as I have experienced.

Finally, I am blessed to have personally known and am now learning to better know the 11 beautiful souls taken from us last year. Their lives and deeds are an indelible part of my being and their personal sacrifice a charge that I and the rest of us can always do better.

Brian Schreiber is president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, a member of Tree of Life congregation and a Squirrel Hill resident.

First published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, November 1, 2019

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