Liptalk: Supporting Family

A Message from Andy Lipkin, Federation Executive Vice-President

Family is important to me. So I jumped at the chance to support my family – my immediate family and my extended Federation family – at “A Shabbat to be Together” in Pittsburgh at the beginning of December.

This trip, the brain child of Alan Samuels of New Castle, Pa., brought our caring community to the community that was hurting in Pittsburgh. About 75 people from the Youngstown area attended Shabbat services on Dec. 8 at Rodef Shalom Congregation where the Tree of Life Congregation is temporarily holding services.

Rabbi Frank Muller said it well when he told the Tree of Life congregation, “We are here today to show our love, concern and support, and to convey the message that you are not alone in your suffering.”

My wife Hilari and I arrived in Pittsburgh the night before. We wanted to spend some time with our daughter, Rachel, and our future son-in-law, Scott. As I mentioned in a previous column, Rachel has struggled somewhat, as many in Pittsburgh have, with the tragedy. With helping to plan a vigil and a number of other community events, arranging for Shiva meals, and delivering victim fund money to the injured, she has been in the thick of things. At the same time, she’s busy preparing for her upcoming wedding. A couple of weeks after the tragedy, she was getting ready to attend her bridal shower in New Jersey and started to feel sad and wondered how she could be celebrating anything when 11 people were killed, others were wounded and a community was still grappling with “why.”

I hoped that attending this Shabbat service would bring some closure, as well as be an expression of our community’s support for our fellow Jews in Pittsburgh. I don’t think you can put complete closure on something like this, but I hoped for some sort of closure for our community, for me personally, and for Rachel.

As the day progressed, I clearly saw our connection to the Pittsburgh Jewish community. I watched as Ronna Marlin, Levy Gardens program director and wife of Federation president Rick Marlin, hugged Andrea Wedner. Andrea was hurt in the shooting and her mother, Rose Mallinger, was killed. Ronna grew up next door to the Mallingers. At the end of the service, Sam Schachner, president of the Synagogue, announced upcoming events, including his son’s bar mitzvah the following week. He mentioned his aunt and uncle – Howard and Jackie Kramer - lived in Youngstown for a long time. Later, I introduced Rachel to him. Your uncle delivered my daughter, I told him.

I’m so proud of how our Federation family and the community have come together to rally around each other and our Jewish family in Pittsburgh. Our community vigil on Nov. 1 was attended by over 600 people of many different faiths. This shows the strength of the relationships Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, Federation director of community relations/government affairs, has created with the interfaith community, politicians and others. I am so proud that our Jewish Community Center and Federation staff and volunteers from Youngstown were the first JResponders to step up and give some relief to staff members at the Pittsburgh JCC. JResponse was conceived as a way for staff from JCCs throughout the country to lend a hand in the aftermath of a natural disaster like a hurricane, a wildfire or a mudslide. No one imagined it would be needed for a tragedy such as the shooting in Pittsburgh, but we stepped up when needed. When I met Brian Schreiber, JCC president and CEO, at the oneg following the service he told me how much he appreciates us and our willingness to help.

Throughout the day, I also spoke with numerous people who traveled from Youngstown for “A Shabbat to be Together” and with members of the Tree of Life community. They were all happy we made this trip. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers thanked us for coming. We’re such a caring community and this struck home. Pittsburgh is just an hour away from us. And we know they would be there for us.  

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