In Pittsburgh, We Are Responsible for Each Other

Photo credit: Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Zone 4

[The following remarks were delivered Monday, Oct. 29 at an all-staff meeting at Hillel International’s Washington headquarters by Geoffrey Melada, Hillel International’s director of communications.]

My wife Natalie and I passed by Tree of Life Congregation on Friday afternoon on our way to a family simcha. We didn’t have time to go inside, but I wanted her to see the building. I knew that, as a native Washingtonian and a Conservative Jew, she’d be interested to see Pittsburgh’s largest Conservative synagogue.

And I wanted to show her what I’m so proud of and never stop talking about, Pittsburgh.

There is a saying in the Talmud, Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh. “All of Israel are responsible for each other.” If you could imagine a neighborhood that is the embodiment of that ideal, it is Squirrel Hill.

Let me give you a few examples.

My late father, Dr. Gary Melada, was formerly the staff physician for the Jewish home for the aged in Squirrel Hill. My father wasn’t Jewish. In Pittsburgh, we are responsible for each other.

When my father died, just past the midpoint of my junior year of high school at Pittsburgh’s Shady Side Academy, Rabbi Alvin Berkun of Tree of Life Congregation sent me a book of Jewish wisdom on grief.

I wasn’t a congregant at Tree of Life. My family belonged to Rodef Shalom Congregation, a nearby Reform synagogue. Rabbi Berkun didn’t know me. He simply heard about me and reached out to help me. In Pittsburgh, we are responsible for each other.

David and Cecil Rosenthal, the brothers with special needs who were among the victims of last Saturday’s deadly attacks at Tree on Life, greeted visitors as they walked through the doors to the synagogue. In Pittsburgh, we are responsible for each other.

I didn’t know the brothers or most of the victims, but I knew Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz. He took kind, gentle, skillful care of my Aunt Sara and my grandmother, Freda. He kept the heartbeat of our family alive.

Dr. Rabinowitz was also one of the first doctors in Pittsburgh to treat people living with HIV. He held their hands without gloves on. He hugged them. He made house calls. Who makes house calls these days? Well, that’s Pittsburgh. And in Pittsburgh, we are responsible for each other.

I was a few blocks away when the shooting began, helping my wife load our young son into our car to take him to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Then my phone started buzzing.

The first person to warn me of danger was my Hillel International colleague Matthew Berger, seeing early reports of a shooting at Wilkins and Shady avenues all the way from his home in Washington, D.C.

My relationship with Matt, stretching back 18 years to our days as cub reporters, is what brought me to Hillel. And that relationship might have saved my life on Saturday, and the lives of my family.

All of Israel are responsible for each other.

Saturday afternoon, as I held my wife and son close to me in my mother’s house near Tree of Life, my phone buzzed again. This time it was an email to me from Adam Lehman, Hillel International’s chief operating officer.

We are mourning today, he told me. But when we are through mourning, we will return to Hillel’s vital work – building the Jewish future and telling the story of the Jewish people.

My talented colleagues at Hillel could apply their considerable skills to other fields and other goals, but we choose this work.

Right now, we are mourning. And when we are through mourning, let us rededicate ourselves to the work of building the Jewish future and telling the story of the Jewish people.

Geoffrey Melada is Hillel International’s director of communications. Previously, he worked as a prosecutor and journalist in his native Pittsburgh, including for the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh.