I am a Jewish woman living in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

I am a wife, a mother, a writer.

I am a member of Rodef Shalom Congregation.

I am a member of Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic and a volunteer at two halfway houses for women.

And now, I sit at my desk trying to make sense of the senseless and find words to describe what is indescribable.

How do you talk when there is no language for this grief?

I go to Squirrel Hill almost every day, have coffee, browse bookstores, write in the library,
meet friends for lunch.

I drive past Tree of Life almost every day, on my way to Oakland or Shadyside, Bloomfield or the Strip.

I didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh. I’m a transplant from the flat land of Columbus, Ohio. But my husband grew up in Point Breeze and attended Sterrett and Allderdice. Our son lives in Lawrenceville; we have nieces and nephews living in a 2-mile radius.

I love Pittsburgh, its rivers and bridges, its crazy streets that arc and bend, never a straight line. I love this city’s vibrancy, its neighborhoods, its open arms and big heart.

“…Pittsburgh has strong arms, wide enough to embrace us all, and we will provide solace and love for each other,” writes Valerie Bacharach. “We will not be afraid.” Photo: Ryan Loew/PublicSource

But what happened this weekend is an abomination. A sacred space, a sanctuary, desecrated.

Eleven people dead in the midst of saying prayers, of honoring Shabbat, of hearing Torah.

Eleven people whose deaths should have come with gentleness, who should have had a peaceful crossing from this world to the World to Come.

My 37-year-old son called to check on me Saturday evening and see how I am doing. This son who had a bar mitzvah, comes with me to synagogue only on High Holy days or to say Mourners’ Kaddish for his grandparents and younger brother. He identifies as Jewish, but doesn’t really believe. And yet he tells me that what he wants to do now is go to services, be with the congregation and show his support. I often struggle with my own faith, what I believe about God, but I understand my son’s feelings. We both want to be present, to be a part of our Jewish community and to stand together as we pray.

I cannot fathom how someone can be so filled with hate, how a stranger wanted people dead simply for being Jewish.

I am heartsick, angry, grieving. Unable to concentrate, to sit for very long. I pace the rooms of my house, move from window to window, watch the clouds.

I attended the interfaith vigil Sunday evening at Soldiers and Sailors, sat among the crowd of people of every race and religious belief—

And I am not afraid.

I will go to services, wear my necklace with its Jewish star, mourn with others, cry with others, and yes, hopefully, laugh with others.

Because Pittsburgh has strong arms, wide enough to embrace us all, and we will provide solace and love for each other.

We will not be afraid.


Valerie Bacharach is a writer based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at [email protected].

This commentary was originally published by PublicSource.