Eugene Rabbi In Pittsburgh During Shooting And Aftermath

Oct 31, 2018

A rabbi from Eugene narrowly missed Saturday’s shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue. A native of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, Yitzhak  Husbands-Hankin was there to visit friends.

Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin holds a Kriah, a torn black piece of cloth, a symbol of mourning and grief. He's among a crowd gathered during President Donald Trump's visit to Pittsburgh Tuesday.
Credit Amy Sisk / WESA

He spoke with KLCC’s Anni Katz by phone Wednesday. Full-disclosure, Husbands-Hankins is her rabbi and a longtime family friend. Anni asked him to describe the feeling in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Husbands-Hankin: There’s a deep sorrow that’s being felt. And somewhat disorientation. The days are kind of blurred, it’s hard to remember what happened which day other than Saturday morning. It’s just loaded and there’s so much emotional material that it’s going to take quite a while, I think, to sort out. And that’s all aside from my own personal experience of not being there Saturday morning when the shooting happened and being warned off by my friend’s wife who called me to tell me not to go to the synagogue because there’s an active shooter inside.
Katz: Can you tell me what it was like to get that phone call on Saturday morning?
Husbands-Hankin: So, right away, I went up to the synagogue to the police perimeter. And we couldn’t see the doors of the synagogue from where they let us come to. But I could hear gunfire, not knowing if it was the police or a shooter, and we waited for about an hour just watching what we could and listening. Then my friend’s wife received a call that her husband was in the hospital. So we went right down there and then he was in surgery immediately, so we just had hours of waiting and then it just kind of blurs into the next day.
Katz: You’re a rabbi. You’re also a human being. And as a rabbi and a human being, what are you hearing from community members about what they need and what you need as you process and everybody processes what happened on Saturday morning?
Husbands-Hankin: People are being very positive with each other I have to say. Death and grief can put people through a real kind of anger and there’s a real strong intentionality on the part of the community to turn positively and lovingly toward one another. Between individuals and between ethnic groups. The Muslim community has been tremendously supportive, even raising substantial sums for the Jewish community to just express their goodwill and their presence and their support. The churches have been very supportive. Then, there was another level of particularly poignancy because of Trump’s decision to come and visit the synagogue, to visit the city and the community. And that brought up a lot of anger.
Katz: When he did visit on Tuesday, the mayor of Pittsburgh refused to meet with him and several Jewish leaders requested in a letter that he not visit. I saw a picture of you holding up a piece of black cloth. Can you explain the significance of that?
Husbands-Hankins: There’s a tradition, when someone dies. There’s a tradition of tearing a garment or placing a black cloth or cutting or tearing that black cloth as a symbol as an expression of the grief being felt, the tearing of the heart, the brokenness of the heart in a time of grief. So, the black square was passed around to, really thousands of people, there were 4,000 people or so at that gathering and we were invited to hold it up skyward, heavenward, and to tear it and say a blessing that is said with the tearing of the cloth at an individual’s funeral. It was a powerful moment having this moment of collective mourning, a very unifying sense of being in the grief together. That was quite meaningful.

Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin of Eugene spoke with KLCC’s Anni Katz by cell phone Wednesday morning. He was on his way to Toronto for a conference. He and his wife plan to return to Pittsburgh to help.