When I was in preschool, some of our day was carved out for arts and crafts. I don’t remember a lot of detail from this time in my life obviously, but I do remember art. I also remember creating a piece that eventually hung on my Jewish grandmother’s refrigerator for the next two and half decades. The project consisted of a chain-link paper cut-out of people holding hands. Each person was painted a different color: brown, white, yellow, pink, etc. We were then given a big piece of green construction paper with the phrase “Be kind to all people” written on the top. We glued the chain-link cut-out to the paper, the finishing touch to our inclusive masterpieces.
Throughout the years, I’d look at that piece from the breakfast table and I’d think how perfectly fitting it was in its final setting, Jackson Heights, New York. This profoundly simple message of love for all, despite our differences, because of our differences, holding up so well over so many years, nestled safely in the folds and boundaries of the refuge land of the Ellis Island immigrants. How fitting, I’d think, how beautiful. How proud I’d be when I looked at it. For that to be one of the first lessons I was taught as a small child, one that held steadfast in so many ways for me in my life.
This morning an active shooter killed eleven people and injured several more, including police, inside The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh is a city I called home for almost 10 years, and the Jewish community is one that I’m connected to by blood, one I’ve grown up with, full of people I’ve loved, and continue to love. Traditions I cherish. Today I am heartbroken for Pittsburgh and for my Jewish brothers and sisters.
But I know that we cannot lose heart. And we cannot forget, despite the ache, despite the disagreements and differences..to be kind to all people. All colors, all religions, all creeds, all preferences and categories, you name it. What was once a land of refuge for my ancestors must continue to be a safe-haven for all people yearning to live a safe, happy life.
We just have to love.
It’s the only way we’ll make it.