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Voice of the Village

Voice of the Village is a weekly feature published in the Benicia Herald. The articles are written by members of the Carquinez Village.

 

Mrs. Goldbach and Her Big Heart

By Judie Donaldson

It was 10 years ago that I moved to Benicia from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the city that is now known as the site of the “Synagogue Massacre.” This is where on October 27 an anti-Semite gunman killed 11 Jews who were attending a Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Most of my friends live within five to ten blocks of the shooting. Many are Jewish. One is a leader at the Tree of Life Synagogue. 
 
Any and every mass shooting is horrific, but, when one occurs in a familiar place, its violence­­ and its truth are even more chilling. How I yearn to be back in Pittsburgh to both mourn with my friends and rail against the reason for the carnage.
 
When something like this happens, it is common for the mayor of a city to utter words to the effect that, “Our community won’t let this get us down. It will only make us stronger.” In the case of Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood where the shooting took place, I have no doubt that this will be the case.
 
Squirrel Hill is a powerful example of a diverse and inclusive community. It provides an antidote to the violence of the shooting by reminding us of the beauty of the human spirit, a spirit that is exemplified by the story of the Cole family.
 
The Cole family lived in a basement apartment in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the city’s African American ghetto. They had accepted their living status until 1968 when their neighborhood erupted in riots in reaction to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Overnight, the Hill District changed. Frightened by the change, the Coles made an immediate decision to attempt to relocate their family of three children to a safer neighborhood. 

But, where? The Hill District was considered the appropriate place for African Americans in the city. However, to their relief, the Coles found one neighborhood that was open to accepting an African American family. That neighborhood was Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish community. The Coles found an affordable apartment and, with trepidation, left the Hill District for their new home.
 
Once again, their world transformed, but in a different way. Marcus Cole, who was a child then, remembers that, while the rest of Pittsburgh was closed to his family, their neighbors in Squirrel Hill welcomed them. The fact that the Cole family was one of the only African American families in Squirrel Hill didn’t seem to matter. From the beginning, the newcomers we reembraced as different, but integral members of a thriving, diverse and healthy community.
 
It all started with Mrs. Goldbach, who came armed with food offerings and her son, Michael, who became Marcus’ best friend. The Goldbachs were followed by a stream of other neighbors who made every effort to make the newcomers feel welcome and a part of the community. This is both significant and curious in light of the unwelcoming attitude toward African Americans that was prevalent in other neighborhoods.
 

What made Squirrel Hill different? Marcus, who has reflected on his family’s experience, accredits Mrs. Goldbach and others like her for having a broad and inclusive definition of community, much like his own mother. She never talked about the African American community or the Jewish community, etc. She just talked about community. He recalls that, “Mrs. Goldbach didn’t wait to meet us. She came to us and embraced us. She had made up her mind that we were going to be a part of her community. In other words, she planned to expand her notion of community by including us. She made it her purpose.” 


Marcus believes, further, that when we meet people where they are, and show a genuine interest in who they are, it does more than just bring people of different communities together. It forms new communities, and changes those of us in those communities. He points out that Squirrel Hill does not only welcome African Americans. It is assertive in its intention to include minorities and refugees in the Squirrel Hill community as well. He also applauds the manner in which the Jewish people breathe life into their religion every day.


I confess to having a particular interest in understanding how Squirrel Hill creates community because Carquinez Village is interested in building community among our members. I think that we need to encourage everyone to welcome new members when they see them, and create opportunities for members to express an interest in others. I understand how easy it is to be passive and assume that others will do this. Just picture what it would be like if every member welcomed every new member! We could all be a Mrs. Goldbach.


We are, as a matter of fact, looking for Carquinez Village members who would like to volunteer to formally welcome new members and other volunteers who would like to be a phone buddy to a home-bound member. If any Village member would like to explore one of these possibilities, let us knowby calling 707-297-2472. We’d love to hear from you.

I have no doubt that you know people like Mrs. Goldbach. The world is filed with many people who have big hearts. I can only imagine how Mrs. Goldbach responded to the synagogue shooting. Can’t you? She was probably out there caring for the families of the victims. Thank you, Mrs. Goldbach. Your light shines in the darkness.

This is where, for the first time, they learned about the true nature of community.

Everything I’ve ever needed to know about being a member of a community, I learned from my friends and neighbors in Squirrel Hill.

 

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