Q & A: An Interview with Rabbi David

 Illustration by Jake Barnard

Illustration by Jake Barnard

On Oct. 27, at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history occurred. Across the nation, memorials were held and support was shown to the Jewish community. In Duluth a vigil at Lake Avenue and Superior Street happened. Over 100 people gathered in the rain to remember the fallen.

At Temple Israel Duluth, on Nov. 1 a vigil was held. I went to Temple Israel to interview Rabbi David Steinberg to hear his thoughts on the shooting.

 Rabbi David Steinberg. Photo by Jakob Bermas

Rabbi David Steinberg. Photo by Jakob Bermas

J: How long have you been the Rabbi at Temple Israel?

D: Since 2010.

J: How did you end up in Duluth?

D: My previous position was in Burlington, Vermont. I was an Associate Rabbi at the conservative synagogue there. It was a nice job but I didn’t see a future for myself there to advance and become the spiritual leader there. So I decided to go on the job market and to this congregation. The previous rabbi was a classmate of mine in rabbinical school so I knew all about this community, years before I had some sense of coming here. I’ve always loved this quality of life of being in a small venue that has access to a fairly large city.

J: What was the feeling of the temple after the Tree of Life events happened?

D: I was actually in Florida at the time. I had a previously planned personal family trip there. Of course people were very upset. We’re still shaken.

J: Do you think the vigil Temple Israel held helped those hard feelings?

D: Yes. We had over 500 people here. It was very moving.

J: The participants were from different backgrounds right? Not just Jewish people?

D: Correct. I developed the program that way as well. I also had a gentleman from the Islamic center of the Twin Ports speak and another Presbyterian minister friend of mine that grew up in Squirrel Hill.

J: Have you ever had a memorial for such an event?

D: In 2001, at that time, I was the rabbi at a reform synagogue in Plattsburgh, New York. You know, when 9/11 happened. I remember that evening we first informally gathered as a Jewish community in the synagogue. And then there was a service just down the block that we all went to and I took part in.

J: I read you have connections to Squirrel Hill. You lived there for some time?

D: I spent the summer of 1986 there. Probably before you were born [Laughs]. This is a second career for me, I used to be a lawyer. And the summer between my second and third year of law school I spent in Pittsburgh working with a law firm and I had a summer sublet in Squirrel Hill. So on the Sabbaths, during that summer, I was there. I went to a synagogue in Squirrel Hill but not the one that was attacked. One of the other synagogues. There's a bunch of them there.

J: In Pittsburgh?

D: In Squirrel Hill. It's a heavily Jewish neighborhood.

J: Do you know anyone affected in the shooting?

D: One of my colleagues was the cousin of some of the victims. And another close friends of mine in my rabbinical association grew up there. So I know people who know people.

J: Is there anything to learn from an event like this?

D: That’s a tough one. I mean it sort of feeds into all sorts of different debates about what security arrangements synagogues or other houses of worships places should have. The whole gun debate feeds into that and people come up with different answers.

J: Do you think gun reform needs a bigger place in America?

D: Oh certainly. I mean, after all the shootings that we’ve had in Parkland and other places.

J: Were you frustrated when you heard about the shooting? Are you still frustrated?

D: I’m saddened and I’m upset. I wouldn't say frustrated.

J: Anti-semitism has its long history in the US and the world. Is being able to recover from hate part of being a Jew?

D: Let me put it to you this way. If somebody approaches me saying they want to convert to Judaism or approaches anybody about that, traditionally one is supposed to, among other things, tell them, “Why would you want to do that? The Jews have been persecuted for millennia.” I think you just have to be who you are and not be intimidated.

If you would like to donate to the victims, their families and the synagogue click here to reach the GoFundMe page.

To learn about UMD’s active threat protocol click on the story or here.

NewsJakob Bermas