I am a Who fan, and I have seen the group all over the world. When I heard they were going to play in Pittsburgh last month, I decided to go.
I do not think about Pittsburgh all that much, but when I landed at the airport my sister called me immediately, and instructed me to get into a cab and drive over to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
As I entered Squirrel Hill, I felt a wave of emotions overtake me. It’s a sleepy, beautiful suburb that I would never had visited if the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue never occurred. About a block away from the temple, the cabbie announced that we would be arriving soon.
We pulled up to the temple’s entrance, which was still fenced off from the street and inaccessible. I hopped out of the cab and approached the entrance. The names of the 11 victims of the Oct. 27, 2018 shooting were etched on Jewish stars that faced the street. Israeli flags and hearts were also festooned on the windows.
I didn’t know what to think or feel, except that I knew I was numb. Eventually the word “why” entered my head. “Why can’t we just go to temple and pray in peace?” I wondered. I walked toward the side of the building and found myself in front of the Tree of Life sculpture that rose up on the temple. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and I stood there stunned, unable to comprehend the full tragedy of the Jewish people.
I moved to the sanctuary’s retaining wall and stared at the temple name in Hebrew and English. I knew I was there to add solidarity and bear witness to yet another attack on my people. The clouds seemed to merge with the gray wall and my heart further sunk. I had wanted to connect with anyone who was inside the temple but that was not an option, as it was still closed.
Looking around at this modest neighborhood, I sensed the pain and emptiness that some of the temple’s congregants must feel each day. I realized that this was all I could do: stand here and pay witness to this indescribable tragedy.
Later on that night at The Who concert, I found myself back at the temple still trying to figure out why someone would have so much hate toward Jews. I couldn’t focus on the music. Instead, the Tree of Life symbol floated around my head. Despite The Who’s vaunted performance of “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia,” there was no joy in my soul.
The Who may have brought me to Pittsburgh but the Tree of Life taught me an old lesson: Never Forget.
Matthew Swartz is a member of the Jewish Journal’s Board of Overseers.