A Pittsburgh newspaper has responded to last weekend’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue by publishing the beginnings of a Jewish prayer for the dead on its front page.
On Friday, the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the first words of the Mourners’ Kaddish, a prayer traditionally recited for the dead, in Hebrew, above an article covering the burial of some of the victims of the shooting. Eleven people were killed in total on Saturday, when suspected assailant Robert Bowers stormed the Tree of Life synagogue with a gun, verbally demanding that all Jews “must die.”
In English, the words express faith in God: “Magnified and sanctified be your name.” Although the exact rituals around its recital vary from denomination to denomination, reciting the Kaddish is one of the most important elements of communal mourning in all mainstream Jewish traditions.
The headline of the @PittsburghPG is the Kaddish. The ultimate tribute to the victims. A statement that Jews belong. (via @catrineinhorn) pic.twitter.com/FOI8Lldt7H— jodikantor (@jodikantor) November 2, 2018
The gesture by the paper is hugely significant, especially following last week’s controversy over Vice President Mike Pence’s handling of the tragedy. Shortly after the shooting, Pence invited Rabbi Loren Jacobs onstage during a Republican rally in Michigan. Jacobs is part of a controversial tradition, Messianic Judaism, which critics deride as a form of evangelical Christianity masquerading as Judaism.
Jacobs also did not recite the Mourners’ Kaddish, choosing instead to pray by name for Republican candidates running for office in the state of Michigan.
Within that context, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette honors the Jewish victims of this tragedy as Jews, by observing an important ritual within their own theological tradition. The Post-Gazette’s headline pays tribute not just to the shooting’s victims, but to the very real, very vital identity that brought them all together last Saturday morning.
In a time when violent attacks on Jews seem a chillingly inevitable consequence of the rise of anti-Semitic discourse in the United States, the Post-Gazette’s front page stands out not just for its compassion, but for its bravery.