On the eve of the second anniversary of the horrific Tree of Life shooting, Pittsburgh native Melody Coven has an important, moving message of hope for her 5-year-old daughter — and for all American Jews.
In a touching, three-minute video premiering on Kveller today, Coven describes to her eldest daughter what the country feels like these days. She begins by talking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Dear Dita,” the video begins. “It’s Mommy. You just turned 5 and our country just lost one of your biggest role models.”
The video cuts to a clip of young Dita saying “RBG” while holding up a paper jabot, sweetly colored in green and purple crayon.
“She’s an empowered woman, just like us,” Coven’s narration about Ginsburg continues. “She’s a feminist, just like us. She’s also a Jewish American, just like us, and she devoted her life to making this country great.”
“She was someone who I could so succinctly point you to my daughter and say, this is one thing we could strive to be,” Coven tells Kveller. “I’ve been reading my child books about RBG since she was, I think, 3 years old.”
The video — which is a montage of home video and national news events, with a voiceover from Coven — is a celebration of Jewish tradition, and the centrality it places on debate and diversity.
Toward the end, Coven shares why — as we mark two years since the murder of 11 Jews by a white supremacist, just one week ahead of a contentious national election — she’s more motivated than ever “to make the world a better place for you, for your community, for your country and for your future — after all that’s what the Torah teaches us to do.”
Coven, 30, still can’t talk about the Pittsburgh shooting without choking up. She didn’t know anyone at the synagogue, but she grew up in the city’s warm Jewish community, where her parents were cantorial soloists.
Yet, on that morning in October of 2018, everyone knew her hometown, but for the worst reason imaginable. “The absolute horror and tragedy of it all still shake me to my core,” she says. “I was in a fog for at least a week after it all happened, breaking into tears and wearing every Steeler shirt I had in my closet. It was so hard not to be in Pittsburgh with my family and community at that time.”
Coven, who is Modern Orthodox and now lives in Chicago, grew alarmed about Trump’s statements about Jews. The idea for the video, she says, came about last summer after Trump said that Jews who vote for Democrats were being disloyal: “I took that really personally as a really active Jewish Democrat,” she says, “and also understanding the intense antisemitic history behind the word disloyal.”
It ended up being the first video that Coven, who works in operations at HardPin — a progressive video company founded by Obama’s 2012 video team — worked on. She collaborated with her colleagues Hamad Al-Tourah and Ben Nadler. Nadler is also a Pittsburgh native, and his two sisters, who are also cantorial soloists, “each held the High Holiday pulpit at Tree of Life over the years,” Coven says.
Coven knows that the majority of Orthodox Jews intend to vote for Trump. But she believes that not voting for the incumbent “makes me more consistent with my Orthodox lifestyle, and not less,” she says.
In releasing the video, Coven says she hopes to validate other Jews who are voting for Biden. But she also hopes that Jewish Trump supporters are exposed to the validity of observant Jewish Democrats: “The fact that we are a diverse people, and that we have to celebrate that diversity and allow for it and not stifle it, is critical in my opinion,” she says.
Photo courtesy of Melody Coven