(JTA) — The attack on the Tops Friendly Market on Buffalo’s Jefferson Avenue last May 14 shook Western New York to the core. In the span of less than 10 minutes, an 18-year-old wielding an AK-47 killed seven and injured three Black people.
The victims were teachers, caretakers, activists, new fathers, grandmothers, community leaders and all around good people. If not for the heroism of retired police officer Aaron Salter Jr., who lost his life in the attack, and the quick response of the Buffalo Police Department, the death toll could have been far higher.
For our Buffalo Jewish community, the attack was a call to action. In years past, the Jefferson Avenue corridor was the heart of the Jewish community. As Jews joined the white flight to the suburbs, it became a place where very few Jews ever frequented. The vigils held in the aftermath of the attack were the first time many Jews in our community had been back in the East Side of Buffalo in decades, if not more.
The gunman had specifically targeted the neighborhood, traveling three hours away from his home to “kill black people.” As the national media emphasized over and over, Buffalo is the sixth most segregated city in the country.
What does it mean that our white Jewish community is so removed from our Black and brown neighbors? A casual remark by a young Jewish parent a few weeks after the attack really struck home for me. He said the shooting at the school in Uvalde, Texas in June 2022 hit a lot closer to home than the shooting just down the road at Tops. As a parent of school age children he could relate to the suffering of the parents in Texas, not to the horror that occurred in Buffalo’s inner city. How could this be? Where did our community go wrong?
As the rabbinic consultant at our local Jewish Communal Relations Council, I take this disconnect very personally. I grew up in a predominantly Black part of West Philadelphia. Back in the 1980s, none of my classmates in my suburban Jewish day school would come to visit my house. They and their parents were afraid to come by, locking their car doors whenever they happened to drive by my home. Sadly, the divide has only grown worse.
Starting in 2017, our local Jewish federation has made a concerted effort to bridge this divide. We have held two missions to Israel, specifically geared to our local African-American leadership. We hired a racial justice coordinator, and are part of the initial cohort of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Jewish Equity and Diversity Initiative.
It has begun to make a difference. The Sunday after the May 14 attack, dozens of Jewish communal leaders showed up on the street outside Tops. Over the course of the past year, we have held racial healing circles, hosted museum tours of local Black artists, held a Freedom Seder and toured gardens on Buffalo’s predominately Black East Side. While we are very far from the shared society we aspire to, I can honestly say we are making strides toward closing the gap. Our community is much more open and accepting of Jews of color, and its members are beginning to accept our role in the systemic racism that is pervasive in our society.
This has been a very bad year for us in Western New York. Beyond the mass shooting at Tops, we had the stabbing of Salman Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institution, two major blizzards that left more than 40 people dead and the near death of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin on the football field.
The one-year anniversary of the Tops attack will hit us hard, but it will not deter us from the work ahead. We, the Buffalo Jewish community, will be there in full force at the various events planned to mark the occasion, not as bystanders, but as upstanders. We are, after all, not only Jews, but Buffalonians.
As my friend, fellow recent traveler to Israel and poet laureate of Buffalo, Jillian Hanesworth, wrote in her poem “Choose Love”: “[W]hen evil tries to break us / we choose to stand tall/ We’ll shout loud and live louder / until the walls of hate fall / because justice can’t be limited / so we choose it for all… So, no matter what others say / no matter what they try to do / love, light, and each other / is what we will always choose.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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