In Judaism, following the loss of a loved one, family and neighbors come to visit and comfort the mourners for a period of seven days, known as the shiva period. The second stage of mourning, called the shloshim period, lasts for 30 days.
The families of the 11 Jews murdered in the heinous attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh Oct. 27 have now marked the end of this 30-day period.
In addition to the 11 murder victims, six people – four heroic police officers and two congregants – were wounded in the attack, which was the deadliest episode of anti-Semitic violence in American history.
Now that Daniel Leger – the final wounded worshiper – has been released from the hospital, and as we track the recovery of Timothy Matson, the wounded policer officer who remains hospitalized, I continue to reflect on this tragedy.
I am grateful for the numerous foreign officials who publicly decried the attack and expressed condolences to the families of the victims, Pittsburghers, the Jewish community and all Americans.
I am sure it will come as no surprise to most people that the state of Israel harshly condemned the attack and had a presence in Pittsburgh during that awful week after the mass murder to stand with and comfort the community.
It might come as a surprise to some that many condemnations of the attack came from officials throughout the Middle East, the region that has become such a significant part of my life over these past 22 months.
The United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba tweeted: “The UAE extends its deepest sympathies to the families of loved ones harmed by the senseless violence in Pittsburgh today. We condemn acts of hate against any people because of their religion, race or beliefs.”
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry official spokesman Ahmed Hafez strongly condemned the attack and rejected all forms of terrorism, violence and extremism.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi wrote on Twitter: “Our deepest condolences to the #US government, people & families of the victims of terrorist attack #PittsburghSynagogue. We condemn this crime & all kinds of terrorism & hate crimes as evil targeting our common humanity.”
Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry condemned “the shooting that targeted a synagogue” and expressed “deep condolences to the victims’ families, wishing a speedy recovery to those injured as a result of this heinous act.”
The Omani government stated: “We want to express our most sincere condolences to you and all the American and Jewish community. Our thoughts are with you and to the families of the 11 victims. Words fall short of expressing our sorrow for your loss of this horrific tragedy. May Allah’s Peace be upon you and the families.”
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington tweeted: “The Embassy expresses its sincere condolences to the American people and to families of victims of the violent incident at a synagogue in Pittsburgh today. Houses of worship are meant to provide safe and spiritual refuge. Those who desecrate their sanctity attack all humanity.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “I condemn the terror attack against a Pittsburgh synagogue and extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the American people.”
The Qatari government stated: “The State of Qatar strongly condemns Pittsburgh shooting in Pennsylvania, in the United States, which resulted in several deaths and injuries.”
The Palestinian Authority, which is currently boycotting me and the rest of the Trump administration, stated: “The Foreign Ministry condemns this terrorist act that targeted a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.” However, the Palestinian Authority continues to reward terrorists and their families and fails to condemn Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis. It also defends Hamas, an unrepentant terrorist organization.
The condolence messages and condemnations keep turning in my mind. I am also keenly aware that some of these statements were self-serving or said for purely political purposes.
And I am painfully aware that actions are more important than words, and that many Middle East governments that have condemned the attacks in Pittsburgh have at times also behaved in ways that are hostile towards the state of Israel or the Jewish people.
It is also high time for everyone to acknowledge that an attack on Jews in America is no different than an attack on Jews anywhere in the world, including in Israel.
It was absolutely shameful when these and other governments failed to condemn Hamas last week at the U.N. General Assembly – even after years of Hamas attacks via suicide bombings, kidnappings, rockets, missiles and other types of violence against Israelis.
It is difficult to advance peace when the international community cannot even come together to condemn a terrorist organization.
Yet I also have learned that you have to be an optimist, a pessimist and a realist for the work I do in the Trump administration on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Being an optimist does not mean we should be starry-eyed and naïve. But we must constantly strive to find the good in spite of the uncertainty, ugliness, and – in some cases – evil that exists.
Despite the Palestinian leadership’s boycott of the Trump administration, many Palestinians continue to meet with me. Most request that the meetings remain private, because they fear retaliation. I continue to have these meetings to allow Palestinians to share their thoughts, grievances, comments and criticism, and to answer their many questions.
Some months ago, I met with one Palestinian who made it clear that he was angry with me and the Trump administration because of the administration’s policies over the past year – policies he believes were anti-Palestinian.
By the end of our time together, I heard some of his grievances and he heard some of my explanations about the Trump administration’s policies. We didn’t leave the room agreeing with one another – far from it on some issues – but we heard each other and respected each other.
In fact, we agreed to meet again, and it so happened that our next meeting took place after the Pittsburgh massacre. The first thing he did was express his sincere condolences to me and the American Jewish community. He was still angry about our policies. But he made sure to start the meeting with words of comfort. He acted like a mensch – a person of integrity.
The sympathy expressed by this Palestinian, like the statements above from numerous Middle Eastern officials following the tragedy, reminds me of our shared humanity and responsibility to work together for peace and human flourishing. This responsibility extends to issues even as difficult and complex as the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
I am not a family member of any of the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre, nor do I have ties to the city of Pittsburgh. I cannot truly know the deep pain that they are facing.
But I am an American, a Jew and most importantly, a fellow human being. The impact of the attack affects us all, regardless of our religion or beliefs.
Let us never forget the 11 who were murdered in Pittsburgh. Let us band together, comfort each other and strengthen the ties that unite us as Americans. And let us strive to work with others to find common ground and to work together to build a future of greater promise and peace for citizens around the world. Then maybe, just maybe, along the way we can find peace.
May God continue to give the families of those who were murdered and the people of Pittsburgh the strength to get through their mourning. May they find comfort from each other, from our fellow Americans and those around the world who also stand with them. God Bless America!