Yinzer's Kaddish

Yinzer's Kaddish
Police respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., on Saturday, October 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette via AP)

I was born in Pittsburgh. My father was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, and my family was Jewish. We lived on Shadyside, in Squirrel Hill.

We lived about a mile away from Tree of Life, and we attended a different Conservative congregation- one slightly closer to home. No doubt I found myself in the Tree of Life congregation once or twice, but it wasn’t my synagogue. It was one of many synagogues.


My early childhood made me an eternal Yinzer. It wasn’t just my first baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium, when my father told me that a baseball game was a place I could make as much noise as I wanted and so I screamed for seven innings and then passed out. It wasn’t just that for my fifth birthday all I wanted was for my party to have Oakland Original O french fries as the sole food source. It wasn’t just that the sight of rolling hills and the slopes of mountains and the sound of rivers became to me the standard of the beauty of American landscapes. It isn’t just that I perplex friends by saying “yinz” instead of “y’all.” It isn’t just that I still sometimes dream in Pittsburgh.


As a child, I lived in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. I ran into him once, in the parking lot of the pediatrician’s office. He was my neighbor. Just as the museums were the people in my neighborhood, and the universities were the people in my neighborhood, and the ice cream man and the children next door and my father’s students and the man who delivered the groceries and the children in my Jewish preschool. I was a child in Pittsburgh. I lived in a house where the lawn sloped down in a steep hill to the street, where the backyard ended as the slope went up into a cluster of blackberry bushes. I lived on a street where I could walk to the park or the museum or house next door to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I lived in a world where Mr. Rogers was my neighbor, where my Jewish family was one of many, many Jewish families, where when the snow fell for the first time each year the sledding was unbelievable.

Pittsburgh is in my blood.


My first experiences with antisemitism were hypothetical, second-hand. They came from my mother, my grandparents, my great-grandparents. I grew up knowing the story of my family’s flight from Europe, my great-great-aunt Rivka only a baby, somehow sleeping as the family huddled in the false bottom of a hay wagon while soldiers stabbed at them with pitchforks, smuggling their way onto a ship to America. My first experiences with antisemitism were that it was a fact, a fact mostly of the past, but a fact nonetheless.

I did not have to reach adulthood to experience it, all I had to do was move away from Pittsburgh. By the end of my family’s first year in New Jersey, I was aware how different I was from other children for being Jewish. I was aware how suspected I was by other children for being Jewish. I was aware that my Judaism, both in belief and by birth, alienated me from the vast majority of my peers and my teachers. Somewhere deep inside me, I knew it was wrong to believe that things would have been different for me in Pittsburgh, but I did believe it.


Mr. Rogers and I, we shared a neighborhood with the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. There are not many steps of separation between me and several of the victims of Saturday’s hate crime. As I try and fail again and again to wrap my head around my grief and horror, this returns to me.

I have known for as long as I can remember that I am not safe, for the sole reason of my ethnicity, faith or no faith. But to have this, the most lethal attack on American Jews ever happen in my own childhood neighborhood, Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, is devastating beyond words.


I have no hopeful turn to end this with, I have no optimistic spin. I have only my own weariness and grief, and the words I have learned since I was a small Jewish child in Pittsburgh, with which to express my feelings.



It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in the beautywood
A neighborly day for a beauty
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day
Since we’re together, we might as well say
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please
Won’t you please
Please won’t you be my neighbor?




Mourner’s Kaddish

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba b’alma div’ra chir’u’tei,
v’yamlich malchutei b’chayeichon ufv’yomeichon
uv’chayei d’chol beit Yisraeil, ba’a-gala uviz’man kariv, v’imru: Amen.
Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach l’alam ul’almei almaya.
Yitbarach v’yishtabach, v’yitpa-ar v’yitromam v’yitnasei, v’yithadar v’yitaleh v’yit-halal sh’mei d’kudsha, b’rich hu,
l’eila min kol birchata v’shirata, tushb’chata v’nehchehmata da’amiran b’alma, v’imru: Amen.
Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya v’chayim, aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru: Amen.
Oseh shalom bim’romav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisraeil, v’imru: Amen.



Read more about antisemitism in America here: Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Teaching My Kids About Yom Hashoah

Read my most recent post here: Young, Naive Cancer

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Filed under: News

Tags: Death, Grief, Judaism, Politics

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