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Squirrel Hill Rabbi: ‘We The Jews Provide Space For Grieving’

Virginia Alvino Young
90.5 WESA
Rabbi Seth Adelson leads congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill

Rabbi Seth Adelson’s cell phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Saturday.

He leads the congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. With 600 families, it’s one of the largest congregations in the city.

In addition to handling the everyday needs of his congregants, he’s also navigating their reactions to Saturday’s mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 worshipers were killed, and some remain in the hospital.

“I'm dealing with all of the things that you might imagine in terms of the fear, the anxiety, the concern about events that happened,” Adelson said. “’Rabbi, are we safe? Rabbi, what are we going to do to make sure our children are safe? Rabbi, what do I tell my kids? Rabbi, how do I respond to this?’”

Adelson said he’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from around the world, as well as in Pittsburgh. He said as he was walking down the street, a woman who he didn’t know stopped him and said “are you Jewish? Let me give you a hug.”

The words of his tradition are what he always turns to in times of loss. Adelson said texts are used to recite and sing “as a way of helping us understand that we're not alone that we have the support of each other - that we have the support of God in times of need,” said Adelson.

“We the Jews provide space for grieving,” he said. “And we in Judaism - I feel like we really do death well. We're good at mourning rituals.”

The Jewish custom of Shiva takes place over the seven days following burial, and Adelson said it acknowledges that “when you've had a loss you're entitled to grieve and you're entitled to talk or not talk and you're entitled to cry or not cry. We as a community want to help you find your way through this grief.”

In the wake of the mass shooting that took place less than a mile from his place of worship, Adelson is also grappling with the issue of security.

“Synagogues, churches, mosques, Hindu temples are soft targets,” he said. “We've had a number of attacks and what we really need to do is to harden those targets to make it harder for people to get in and look.”

Adelson said most congregations don’t have the money to make a synagogue impenetrable, “but the other challenge is that I don't want my synagogue to be impenetrable. I want it to be welcoming. I want people to come in. And yet the reality is that we need more.”