It was raining and cold on Saturday morning. Soccer had been canceled, so everyone in my house was lazing around in PJs. While I was sipping coffee and snuggling my kids, a man shot and killed eleven people who were worshiping in their Squirrel Hill Tree of Life synagogue. The man’s name isn’t important because I choose not to remember him. Instead, I will remember the victims and their families.
Since Saturday, everyone with an opinion has made statements on TV, radio, or social media; added comments to online forums and publications; decided if they react with vitriol or compassion. I mostly sat back and took it all in, angry for my fellow humans who are targeted for simply being. I’m not one you’d generally classify as “quiet,” but despite feeling feelings, I couldn’t really find words for them.
Then I read something from my friend Ann Imig. If her name sounds familiar, it might be because she is the creator of the live-reading sensation, Listen to Your Mother, of which my gal pals and I were honored to be a part here in Pittsburgh. Ann is also an active and proud member of the Jewish community, and it was only when she declared her intent to be “defiant in her Jewish joy,” that I realized there was a description for what I had been feeling.
Defiant in joy.
Hell yes I was sickened and saddened and heartbroken over what happened. While none of my Jewish friends were personally affected by the shooting, we were all personally affected, ya know? I devoured the news coverage, but kept coming back to the same conclusion: the people spouting off more hatred have it all wrong. We can point fingers and blame policies, but that won’t serve our neighbors. Let’s get our Mister Rogers on and look for the helpers. Better yet, let’s be the helpers, not the ones picking fights in the comments sections. Let’s not be the ones filling every conversation with rants or ugly memes. Let’s be defiant in joy.
Our city is strong, and–as I read somewhere this weekend (on a sign at the Steelers game maybe?)–you can’t break a city made of steel. Squirrel Hill has always been known for its open arms, inhabited by inclusive and compassionate people of all colors, faiths, and beliefs. That won’t change. But the way we treat each other should. And if that means supporting our Jewish friends who have more than thirty thousand signatures respectfully declining a visit from our president, then so be it.
In an open letter to President Trump, Pittsburgh Jewish Leaders have requested he cancel his visit to our city unless he denounces white nationalism. I firmly believe his hateful rhetoric incites hateful action, yet he won’t stop. That tells me he values his platform more than human life. Many of us agree he has “emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” and violence against groups such as LGBQT, people of color, and journalists is the “direct culmination of (his) influence.” I won’t lie: I struggle to reconcile my joy and the rest of this stuff.
I try to keep my rants to a minimum not because I’m afraid of the backlash, but because I’m afraid of bogging down myself and the people I care about. We’re all living under the same sky; why would I want to add to anything but happiness to their hearts? And maybe that is exactly how I remain defiant in joy: I keep bringing the happy? Keep laughing? Keep loving? I’m not quite sure.
But of one thing I am certain: as a voter, I’m defiant in joy.