(October 27, 2019 / JNS) At Sunday’s opening of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors meeting from Oct. 27-29 in Jerusalem, Jewish leaders from around the world stood side by side to memorialize the first anniversary of the attack on the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburg that claimed 11 Jewish lives and injured six others.
Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog lit a memorial candle in memory of those murdered in the shooting—the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American Jewish history.
“B’chol dor va dor (‘in every generation’), there are challenges for each generation. What strikes me is that some of our challenges today are similar to those of 90 years ago. Anti-Semitism, divisiveness among the Jewish people. … We cannot put our heads in the sand. We have challenges we must meet. We must also build the future,” he told those gathered.
Among hundreds of other communal leaders at the meeting who stood for a moment of silence were Jewish Agency board chair Michael Siegel, and Pittsburgh community leader and chair of United Israel Appeal Cindy Shapira.
Shapira told the gathering of global Jewish leaders: “What happened after the attack is testimony to the resilience of the Jewish community, as well as the community at large. We remember and repair together.”
She explained that she chose to be at the board of governors in Jerusalem and miss the numerous commemorative events in her hometown of Pittsburgh to focus on the resilience of Jews everywhere, saying: “I’m here at this meeting because the Jewish Agency and leadership of Jewish people around the world are in a focused mission to connect the Jewish people to each other and to Israel, security all over the world and bring those to the homeland who want to be here.”
Tens of thousands of people around the world will “pause with Pittsburgh” and receive a text message on Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, calling for a moment of silence and naming the 11 Jewish worshippers who lost their lives.
In a powerful show of unity and collective remembrance, she noted, tens of thousands of people worldwide will “pause with Pittsburgh” and receive a text message on Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, calling for a moment of silence and containing a video with a mourning prayer, the names of the 11 Jewish worshippers who lost their lives, a link to virtually join Pittsburgh’s local service and the opportunity to share a message of solidarity by text.
Also speaking of her experiences in Pittsburgh in the weeks following the attack, young Israeli emissary Hadar Maravent spoke on a panel at the opening ceremony with other shinshinim (emissaries who defer their army service to work in a Jewish Diaspora community for a year). She recalled working with teenagers in the aftermath, bringing her own experiences of terror attacks in Israel.
“People felt comfortable reaching out to me partly because I’m Israeli and [moving on from anti-Semitic attacks] is familiar to me in a way,” she told JNS.
“We talked about anger, frustration and sadness,” she said. “I wasn’t just a guest in the community; I was there because I needed to be there for the teens and families that hosted me, sharing a message of hope, and that we are stronger together.”
Herzog, who met Hadar in Pittsburgh a few days after the massacre, told the leaders gathered that nurturing the future of the Jewish people and promoting the shlichut of young Israeli leaders will “bring the voice of the Jewish world” back to impact Israel.
As part of the board of governors meeting, the Jewish Agency will approve its new strategic plan, which seeks to tackle the major challenges facing Jewish communities in the coming decade.
According to that plan, Herzog told JNS, the Jewish Agency will “focus our operations on connecting all the geographies within the global Jewish community, with the core strategy coming from the need to address the challenges of the Jewish world, such as divides within the Jewish people, the challenge of anti-Semitism and the security of Jewish community infrastructure around the world.”
“Putting forward the idea of a new operational structure will give a platform for local partnerships that have the ability to connect Jews all over the world not only to Israel, but between themselves as well,” he said.
In addition, Herzog noted that his organization will continue to focus on encouraging aliyah.
It will also focus on educating Israelis through work with its government agencies to more effectively “listen to the voice of Diaspora Jewry” and assume a major role in more effectively supporting them.
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