As I left home yesterday for shul, I turned to wave goodbye to my toddler, who was not coming with me this week because it was raining slightly. His face framed in the window was the image in my mind as I reached the main street in Squirrel Hill: Murray Avenue.

As I approached it seemed a little quiet, but not unusually so for a Saturday morning. My first inkling that this was anything but a regular Shabbat morning was the sound of sirens as I crossed Murray. The sound was not a regular siren: it was more of an alarm, but it was clearly coming from an approaching vehicle. I turned my neck as I continued up Hobart Street to catch a glimpse. I saw a vehicle flash through the intersection “City of Pittsburgh SWAT.”

I hurried my steps to shul, approximately a block away, assuming it was just a false alarm.


As I arrived, I was quickly ushered in by the security guard in the doorway, radio in hand: a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, four confirmed dead. Active shooter situation.

As I entered the synagogue proper, it was uncharacteristically quiet. The congregants at my table asked in hushed tones if I had any updates.

The service continued, with intermittent updates being announced. To see the congregation praying and listening to the Torah service as usual was comforting with death so near. Even if we had no control over the situation a few blocks away, here we had some control. We knew what we had to do: to pray and beseech with added fervor.

I sat in a shul on lockdown, and listened to the seventh and last reading of the Torah portion: the Akeidat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac. G‑d asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son. All seemed lost; what hope could Abraham have? Why would G‑d ask such a thing of him? And then, the poignant Haftorah: the story of the poor widow, whose two sons were cruelly taken from her. Again, all seemed lost; how could she pay her debtors and be reunited with her beloved children? And finally, the second episode in the Haftorah: involving the Shunamite woman, who, in her old age, was promised a son by the Prophet of G‑d. Her joy, however was short-lived: the lad, born through a miracle, passed away. Why would such a thing come to pass? What hope could there be?

However, in all these cases, there was hope. G‑d was there. So here, too, in this shul, in this community torn apart by tragedy, we may not see or feel G‑d’s presence. We do however know that G‑d is here.

After prayers, there was a kiddush as usual, but with a different focus. The rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, encouraged the community to increase in unity: “The attack today was an attack on all of us, an attack on klal Yisrael—the Jewish people as a whole. The takeaway is that we must unite, we must, as one, increase in acts of goodness and kindness.”

As I sat with friends, words were few. Saying a little l’chaim in the merit of the killed and wounded, I shared my thoughts. The message for me was clear: All is not lost: all must not be lost.

As I left shul, the death toll stood at seven, may G‑d avenge them. On the walk home, a woman on her porch was watching the helicopters overhead. “Shabbat Shalom,” she called, as we exchanged a knowing nod. As I passed a prominent high school, I noticed the school police stationed outside. One called me over: “Are you OK? Were you at that synagogue?”

“No,” I replied, “I pray in yeshivah, but we are all part of the same community.”

I told him I was fine, but was I? Are any of us? He told me the death toll now stood at eight.

As I arrived home, my wife was in the middle of her prayers. She had stayed home because of the rain. I paused for a moment, should I tell her? In the middle of her prayers? Should I shatter her cocoon?

It came tumbling out: There was a shooting, in a shul, not ours, but right here, eight dead.

Slowly, another realization dawned: a synagogue was chosen at random. Why that one and not the one I attend? I could have been in the hallway, helping my wife unload our kids from the stroller, as I do most weeks. It could have been anyone.

Later, after Shabbat, we went as a family to the small memorial set up near the scene. In the light drizzle, we recited Psalms.