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Pittsburgh Holds Vigil To Honor Victims In Synagogue Shooting

6 hours ago
Originally published on October 28, 2018 5:21 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And, finally today, I reached out to an old friend to give us one more perspective on yesterday's shooting, David Shribman. We used to work together in Washington, D.C. Now he is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He lives just three blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue, and he's published two powerful pieces - one for his own paper and another for the New York Times. And he's with us now from his office at the Post-Gazette.

David Shribman, it is good to hear your voice.

DAVID SHRIBMAN: It's nice to hear yours, Michel, after all these years.

MARTIN: Yes. And I'm sorry for the reason we are talking today, but I'm glad we are. In your piece today, you wrote about the long history of Judaism in Pittsburgh but also about the long history of coexistence and religious tolerance in Pittsburgh as exemplified by your own life. But you also live in the world - I mean, it has to be said, you are in the news - and I just find myself asking if you were surprised to see this here.

SHRIBMAN: Well, you never expect to see this three blocks away from home or 3,000 miles away from wherever you are. But it's - covering these things is our way of rendering service to the community we represent and the community we live in and the community in which we have the deepest possible investment, which is that of our families. So I'm here at the Post-Gazette with our - mostly our entire staff here selflessly poured in because this is our way of serving our community, and this is our way of marking this moment.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask, how are your people doing? How is your staff doing?

SHRIBMAN: Our staff is hurt and exhausted but fired with determination to do what God has placed us on this earth to do.

MARTIN: You wrote that your paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, did not hesitate to call this a hate crime. And why was that? And we should add that the suspect, as we have heard, has now been - is being investigated for hate crimes. Why do you think that that's important?

SHRIBMAN: Because this was certainly not an act of charity. It wasn't a - it wasn't a mistake or coincidence that this occurred in a synagogue. It didn't occur in a mall, didn't occur in a park. And we would have used that phrase had it occurred in a mosque, as it did once in Quebec, or if it occurred in a church as it did so fatefully and so horribly in South Carolina three years ago. I mean, he clearly - this alleged perpetrator clearly had hate on his mind and in his heart.

MARTIN: George Selim, the senior vice president for programs with the Anti-Defamation League, told NPR listeners this morning that anti-Semitic attacks have spiked over the last two years. And you wrote about Pittsburgh as being a place that has such a long history of religious tolerance and intermingling. Did - have you seen that here? Have you seen...

SHRIBMAN: We have not seen...

MARTIN: ...A rise in attacks - events like that?

SHRIBMAN: We have not seen this here. This is a community where Jewish life is conducted with great ease and great comfort and great security. As, of course, is Catholic life - one third of our neighbors are Catholic here - and Muslim life and every other kind of life. We pride ourselves here on tolerance, and it's not exceptional for people to live Jewish lives or to live devout Catholic lives. I sometimes say that this is the only community I've ever lived in where the people who aren't Jews actually produced - actually pronounce the Yiddish words correctly - something their Jewish colleagues sometimes fail to achieve.

MARTIN: Can you read us something from your piece for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette? As I mentioned that you had a piece in your paper, you also had a piece in The New York Times. But I guess I was really struck by your piece for your own paper, and I wanted to ask if you could read the two paragraphs toward the end of it - begin, because this was our neighborhood.

SHRIBMAN: (Reading) Because this was our neighborhood caught in the crossfire of the strains of the global village, and for once, sadly - so very sadly - the hurt was ours, and the victims were ours, and the need to heal is ours. For now it has happened here, for millions across this wounded nation, we are the focus of anguish and anger and solace. It can happen here - place of the moment. And as we suffer, and as we know, given the tempo of the tragedy in these times that are ours, that title won't be ours for long.

In our grief - shared across all faiths - we need something to lean on to steady us. We might reflect on this passage from Proverbs that lent its name to this place of tragedy - a reference to the metaphor describing Judaism's most sacred text, the Torah, as a tree of life - or, in transliteration, Etz hayyim (ph). It is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.

MARTIN: Did writing those words give you any peace?

SHRIBMAN: No. They gave me a chill to type and a chill to read and a chill to think about what this means for this community.

MARTIN: And, as a journalist, you often don't step into the waters of what it means, and you don't step into the waters of speculation. But do you mind if I impose upon our friendship and ask, what do you think it means?

SHRIBMAN: I think it means that we'll hurt here for a long while, that we'll bury our dead and that we will be - and I'm having trouble even saying this, Michel - that we will be stronger for the loss, though the loss in those families will never go away.

MARTIN: You really think that? You'll be stronger for it?

SHRIBMAN: I think we'll be more determined than ever to live civic, civil lives - to reach out to one another and to live together.

MARTIN: And what about all the issues that are raised by this? There are so many difficult conversations that, you know, a lot of people want to have. Some people say it's not time yet. Other people say, how can it not be time to have those difficult conversations? There are serious conversations about policy, about - we are in the middle of a very heated election year.

I just - I know that you gathered a list of names and thoughts and statements made from leaders and public figures around the country - really, around the world - speaking about this, but what are you - what do you think? I mean, how can you not think about this as you cover these issues going forward? And how do you think you're going to think about this?

SHRIBMAN: Well, right now - not to beg off the question, Michel - we're so exhausted, and we can't think about much beyond our work today and tomorrow and the next day. Funerals began on Tuesday. This will prompt huge conversations in all of our homes and synagogues and churches and mosques and in public debates. We are - what, nine days away from an election? I think people will reflect upon this period. But this is not a period of politics, the next 48 hours. It's a period of mourning and reflection about the purposes of life and the fragility and caprice of it all.

MARTIN: And, before we leave you - and thank you so much for talking with us at such a difficult time. I - have you thought about what brought you here? I know it seems like a ridiculous question, but has it...

SHRIBMAN: What brought me here to Pittsburgh?

MARTIN: Yeah. Has it thought about - has it given you thoughts about what brought you here and what your mission is here now?

SHRIBMAN: I came here to serve this community. My parents, my children and wife have flourished here. My children found their life's work through their experience here. And I've had the privilege of sending the conversation of a remarkable community.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for talking with us - my old friend David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And I really appreciate you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.