More than 100 community members, local and state officials, clergy members, and leaders from Pittsburgh's Jewish community came together on January 10th for the virtual community meeting, "Countering Antisemitism in Etna". The meeting was created as a response to an antisemitic hate symbol, a flag with a swastika, that is being displayed on a house. To demonstrate that Etna is an inclusive and loving community, residents and organizations responded by creating the event as a way to come together, to stand up against symbols of hate, and provide space for people to learn about contemporary antisemitism.
During the meeting, local and state officials spoke on the increasing threat of antisemitism in the region and why we can not afford to stay silent. Borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage spoke about the increased anxiety and fear that we have all faced since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic. She went on to say,
"When I think that there are people here in Etna, who have to feel that way every day, because of the color of their skin, because of their faith, it hurts. It hurts me, and it should hurt all of us."
State Representative Sara Innamorato joined us to speak about incidents of hate that she has seen in her district and how the community has responded to them.
“Every time a hateful act has happened, the community has pushed back ten-fold with acts of love. They say we want everyone to be welcome here, that diversity is our strength. And I’ve seen that first hand in Etna.”
Officials were also joined by faith leaders from Etna’s five churches and worship centers. They prepared a joint statement on the importance of loving our neighbors and rejecting the church’s treatment of the Jewish Community in the past. Pastor Donald Simmons from Three Rivers Praise and Worship Center said,
“We recognize how our ancestors in the faith have done wrong with harsh words and divisive teachings. In actually listening to each other, we have come to better understanding of what the scripture says that love really is."
The educational portion of the evening was prepared by leaders from Pittsburgh's Jewish community. Shawn Brokos, Director of Community Security, and Laura Cherner, Director of Community Relations, both of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, gave moving presentations. Ms. Brokos shared examples of the startling rise of antisemitic attacks in our region in recent years, and Ms. Cherner educated our participants on modern antisemitism and how it manifests in our communities. Maggie Feinstein of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, an organization born out of the Tree of Life shooting, discussed community trauma and growth after trauma. Nick Haberman of the LIGHT Education Initiative of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh talked about Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, and invited some of LIGHT students from Shaler Area High School to talk about standing up to hate and being an advocate for our neighbors.
Our biggest take-away: the Jewish community makes up a tiny fraction of the population of Western Pennsylvania, and it often and unfairly falls upon their shoulders to fight back against antisemitism. But this is an issue that affects all of us - hate has no place in our community or in any community. Brushing aside hateful symbols or acts and minimizing their effect on people and communities only gives space for hate to rise. It is incumbent upon all of us to stand up to hate and put our arms around our neighbors to demonstrate that Etna is for Everyone.
You can view the full virtual meeting here.