• Israel Fellow Andrey Kogan raises the Israeli flag at a concert after deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

    Andrey Kogan, Courtesy ©
  • Machine Head with the Israeli flag at a concert in Pittsburgh.

    Andrey Kogan, Courtesy ©

A moment of healing

Heavy metal and healing: Israeli flag provides transcendent moment after Pittsburgh synagogue massacre

By Andrey Kogan, Herman and Helen Lipsitz Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh.>
The 48 hours that followed the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in the same city where I serve as a Shaliach (Israeli emissary) for The Jewish Agency, were a whirlwind of devastation and grief for the local Jewish community and the entire Jewish world. Yet after two days of turmoil, I found myself not at a prayer service or a vigil, but at a heavy metal concert.
Many might view this as an unorthodox choice. Shouldn’t I have been mourning? Indeed, I was—but I also needed to refresh myself. Music has always been my refuge, shelter, and savior in difficult times.
Growing up in Russia, I’d listen to the Israeli heavy metal band’s Holocaust-focused album, “Kaddish,” which is also the name of the Jewish mourner’s prayer. Fittingly, then, I decided that I’d find healing after the Tree of Life shooting—the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history—at a Machine Head concert in Pittsburgh.

As I left my office at the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh on the way to the Stage AE complex, I spotted a large Israeli flag hanging on the wall. Without thinking much about it, I grabbed the flag and brought it to the concert. And there I was, standing with an Israeli flag among hundreds of metalheads who stared at me with great confusion.

But after a few moments, concertgoers started walking up to me and hugging me, saying they were standing with Pittsburgh’s Jews and supporting that community. One member of the audience asked me to hoist the flag as high as possible. I complied, but he wasn’t quite satisfied, and told me, “If you can’t raise the flag so that everyone can see it, we’ll raise you!”

It was a surreal experience. I got carried all the way to the stage with my flag. Rob Flynn, Machine Head lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, saw the spectacle just as he sang the lyrics of “Imperium,” which were all too appropriate: “In so much pain, give me the will to fight…Hate in so much hate, never that pain will bind me.”

“Music unifies us, breaking down boundaries and barriers.”

Later in the concert, before he was about to perform an emotional ballad, Flynn stopped everything and spoke in a somber voice about the murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life. He dedicated a moment of silence to the victims of the anti-Semitic attack. Eight-hundred Americans, most of whom weren’t Jewish, stood in silence and lowered their heads.

When the moment of silence passed, a man wearing an Iron Maiden shirt came over to me and said he’s Jewish, and that the past two days had been a nightmare for him—until seeing the Israeli flag at this concert gave him strength. I hugged him and said I understood his pain, and that the Israeli and Jewish people are one large family.

Following the band’s performance, Flynn took my flag and wrapped himself in it, ending a powerful and special evening which taught me three major lessons:
1. Music unifies us, breaking down boundaries and barriers.
2. Even after the synagogue shooting, I’ve never felt as safe and secure as I do now, surrounded by all these wonderful people in an amazing U.S. city like Pittsburgh.

3. Am Yisrael Chai!
The Jewish Agency for Israel is grateful to The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Jewish Federations of North America and Hillel International for their partnership and generous support. 

Learn more about Campus Israel Fellows >


See also:

We're Together with Pittsburgh >

Herzog's Visit to Pittsburgh >

Helping Pittsburgh Recover with Expertise from Israel >

Solidarity from Karmiel-Misgav, Pittsburgh’s Partnership Region >

06 Nov 2018 / 28 Heshvan 5779 0
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