Former Tree of Life congregant from Woodbridge: ‘Doing nothing is an action’
A former congregant of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh who grew up in Woodbridge said religiously motivated homicide would be shocking anywhere.
When 11 people ranging in age from 54 to 97 were killed by an anti-Semitic gunman at that synagogue Oct. 27, however, it hit home for Gideon Gradman.
“I know the synagogue well. We attended it for years when we first moved,” he said. “It’s one block from my parents’ home.”
Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where the progressive synagogue is located, is “a very small community and very nice; a quiet neighborhood that has a fair number of Jewish families,” said Gradman, who lived in Woodbridge for 14 years where he attended Ezra Academy and B’nai Jacob, before moving to Pittsburgh.
Gradman’s family moved to Pittsburgh in 1990 where he attended Tree of Life for two years, but spent more time there in high school for regular meetings with a Jewish youth group.
“It’s been very upsetting, but people have reached out from work, from college, from high school and all over the place. It’s been heartwarming, because when you’re sitting around feeling bad, it’s good to talk with friends,” he said.
Gradman said anti-Semitism is a historical concern for Jews, but not one he had thought much about until the last few years.
“I think the last number of years has caused me to be more skittish about safety, because this is not the first negative act that has happened,” he said. “I have felt incrementally more on guard about my environment.”
He said the atmosphere of anti-Semitism has risen, and an inability to call out bigotry by its name is a contributing factor.
“If you don’t correct someone or speak up when someone says you think they shouldn’t, then you are accepting it. Doing nothing is an action,” he said.
Gradman is not the only Connecticut native with personal ties to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, either.
Lynette Lederman, a congregant and former president of the synagogue who has provided numerous interviews with the media, was born and raised in Bridgeport.
“We want people to know that (those) killed on Saturday were in the synagogue doing what they always do,” Lederman told the Connecticut Post. “And we are going to continue doing what we always do. We will never let anti-Semites intimidate us.”
Lederman told CNN she would not welcome Donald Trump to Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the shooting as a purveyor of hate speech. Trump visited Pittsburgh anyway on Tuesday, where he was met with protestors angry at his rhetoric and how it contributes to tensions, including the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where a protestor was killed when Trump said some on the side of white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us” were “very fine people.”
Middletown resident Sarah Steinfeld also grew up a short distance away from the Tree of Life synagogue. She told the Middletown Press the support shown to the Squirrel Hill community in the aftermath was heartening to her.
“I thought of it as my front yard in many ways. Seeing photos of the street, just flooded with people showing up in Squirrel Hill, and not being there, was, in some way, heartening, but also alienating. I really just wanted to be there,” she said.
Steinfeld told the Middletown Press she did not need the shooting to be a wake-up call because she’s “been awake to the problems of gun violence for a very long time, unfortunately.”
She said it was not organic that Connecticut adopted some of the strongest gun safety laws in the nation in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, but because of community action.
Since speaking to the Middletown Press, Steinfeld’s husband, state Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, has been subjected to anti-Semitism after a mailer released by opponent Ed Charamut exaggerated the Jewish representative’s features while depicting him grasping a wad of cash.
Initially on Tuesday, Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano said he looked at the ad and doesn’t “see Jewish” and accused Democrats of “false outrage.” Later, Romano said he spoke with Jewish friends and began to recognize the “classic anti-Semitic tropes.” Romano said he would undergo sensitivity training with the Anti-Defamation League.