“Demand Peace and Pursue It” (Psalm 34)


A Response to Pittsburgh from Executive Director, Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein:

*Update: Please join me and other members of the 14th Street Y staff tomorrow morning, Monday, October 29 from 8:30 – 9:30 AM. We’ll have coffee and tea, and a safe space to offer support and companionship to each other. 

I don’t normally write emails on Shabbat, as I observe Saturday as break from the normal routines of daily life. But as I just sat on the couch with my sons, hugging them as we shared the devastating news from Pittsburgh, I felt a need to reach out to you as well.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough.

But on this Shabbat afternoon, we are starting with those as many of us need to take a moment to cry, to hold each other, and to gather strength. For my family, who identify as Jews and are regular synagogue goers, there is no way for this not to feel real and intimate to us, even as we do not yet know all of our personal connections to the tragedy. In our community, many of us are Jewish, Muslim, Latinx, People of Color, Immigrants, LGBTQ, or otherwise identify as a part of a group that has been subject to dehumanizing rhetoric, threats, and violence that have seemingly become only more acceptable in our nation in recent years. This is the prayer that my family offered together this afternoon:

“Spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Be with the helpers: the police and first responders and doctors and nurses and counselors. Bring healing and comfort to the people who are hurt and scared and sad. Give us strength and bravery to deal with our bad and angry and scared and sad feelings.We promise that we will work to fix how broken America is, and to make our country one where we all can feel safe and proud.”

Our texts teach that prayer is not enough, we must “Demand peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34). We know that as Shabbat ends tonight, we will start to mix our grief and anger with dedication and deliberate action— for we cannot continue to allow our country’s basest fears, impulses, and actions to become the way of the land.

News reports say that the gunman was motivated by his hatred of Jews, and also of his hatred of immigrants, and particularly the organization HIAS. Many of you know that I was proud to help lead a HIAS rally in NYC in support of refugees and immigrants, and that like HIAS, Educational Alliance and the 14th Street Y were originally founded more than 130 years ago to support Jewish immigrants. The Jewish values of welcoming the foreigner and protecting the vulnerable are as important in our work now as ever as we work to create an inclusive, welcoming, supportive community for all who want to be a part.

Tonight we will start by gathering at a vigil in Union Square hosted by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. At the 14th Street Y, we have a new initiative called #14YMobilize, and we are currently seeking volunteer leaders who want to help organize our members to work together on issues of concern in our community. Most recently, groups have been forming to support and protect immigrants in our community and in our city. If you are interested in taking a leadership role, please email Chief-of-Staff Mauricio Pazmino at mpazmino@14streety.org.

On a practical note, please know that we take safety and security very seriously in the buildings of our agency. The Educational Alliance and 14th Street Y work in collaboration with federal, state, city, and private agencies to ensure the best and most up-to-date security protocols. As you have at other moments of concern, you will notice enhanced security in our facilities beginning tomorrow.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to our staff and to each other to let us know what you may need and how you might be able to help in this challenging moment in our community and in our country. As many of you care for children, we are also including some resources for talking to children about violence.

Today we pray, tonight we gather, tomorrow we rededicate ourselves to demanding peace and pursuing it. Thank you for being a part of our community, for truly, we can draw strength from each other.

L’shalom (Towards Peace),‌

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y

Please find resources for talking to kids about violence below.

A secular resource:

A Jewish resource: