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How am I supposed to feel about the trial of the synagogue shooter?

Is it ok that I feel ok?

Is it ok that I don’t?

After 4 ½ years, the trial of the 10/27/2018 synagogue shooter is finally coming to a close. Many of those who were most directly impacted by the attack have been spending long, difficult days in the federal courthouse, sometimes face to face with the defendant. For them, this is a time of unimaginable pain and heartache that has long been anticipated and that augments the feelings of pain and loss that have been present ever since that infamous day. For many others in our community, who were less directly impacted, the news stories surrounding the trial are an unwelcome intrusion into their daily lives that suddenly brings back the feelings of horror and disbelief that permeated life during that time but which have since largely disappeared into the background. And for still others, stories of the trial are similar to stories of other terrible events that happen: the stories are sad but do not affect them personally on an emotional level.

Pittsburgh is a small community, and Pittsburgh’s Jewish community is even smaller. As such, it’s easy to sit in judgment of the various emotional reactions that people may have surrounding the trial if they are different from our own. “Why aren’t they more upset about this?” Or, “Why are they still so upset about this?”. 

And the judgments may not only come from other people. We are all really talented at casting judgment upon ourselves, too. “What’s wrong with me for feeling X and for not feeling Y?”. We tend to become especially judgmental – and sometimes overtly critical – when we think that our own emotional reactions are different from those of the people we are closest to. These differences threaten us, largely because they imply that something is wrong with the people we care about or, even more worrisome, that something is wrong with us. Either way, it can create an emotional space between us.

As humans, we yearn to belong and feel connected to others. We often celebrate these connections and have always looked for ways to increase them, including the formation of families, tribes, and even Steelers fans! Feelings of connection are so powerfully important to us that people with strong social connections tend to live longer and be healthier than those who are emotionally isolated. In contrast, anything that suggests that we are different from the people around us can imply that our connections are at risk and can result in feelings of distress, sometimes in a deeply intense way.

Intellectually, we know that no two people are alike and that differences are “the spice of life”. And yet emotionally, we long for strong unions with others with whom we share something meaningful. So how do we allow for these different reactions, especially in the context of something as emotional and unique as the synagogue shooting, while still maintaining our feelings of connection with others?

It is a challenge that we can best meet by recognizing and being honest with ourselves about what we are feeling and why. There were a wide variety of reactions to the shooting back in 2018, and there continues to be a lot of variability in how people are feeling. Some people are more intensely upset than others because of their connection, or identification, with one or more of the victims. Or because their own experiences of trauma were triggered by the shooting (or the trial). Or because they never fully dealt with the horror they experienced on 10/27/2018. Or because of concerns about their own, personal safety today. The list of possible reasons goes on and on. Similarly, the list of reasons that some people feel less upset than others can be equally long.

Once we recognize that our emotional reactions make sense for us, while not necessarily for the people around us, we can start to accept our different responses without worrying that these differences are a sign of fraying connections. In fact, these differences can make it easier for us to provide care and support to those who need it the most. Those acts of kindness and concern will actually help to strengthen and deepen our relationships. And who knows? It’s likely that the time will eventually come when we will need the ones we supported to be there for us as well.


-Dr. Jordan Golin, JFCS President & CEO