Tree of Life Shooting in Pittsburgh and How We Move on From Here

On Saturday October 27, 2018, 11 people were murdered and 6 others were injured as a result of a hate crime against Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. These are the facts, but I’m writing as a Pittsburgher and a Jew to provide a glance at what we are truly experiencing.

I woke up Saturday morning to a cold, rainy, typical-Pittsburgh-weather day. I decided to skip my run for the morning and lay in bed. While watching TV, sirens blared outside my bedroom window as first responders flew down Forbes Avenue toward Squirrel Hill. Still not having any clue as to what was going on, I began to get calls and texts from friends asking me if I was okay or if I was at services that morning. Before I could respond, I got an emergency alert from the University of Pittsburgh.

Tree of Life? They synagogue where I attended High Holiday services with my friends every year? The synagogue that I run past once a week on my five-mile route? I did a quick Google search to make sure there wasn’t more than one in the area before I began to cry. I called my mom to tell her what happened. Then, the reports started pouring in that there were casualties. My heart sank to my stomach, and I ran to my roommates for comfort. All I could think about was that I had to go to my Rabbi’s house to let his wife know what happened because it was Shabbat, so no one had their phones (it is Jewish tradition to not look at screens from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night). Shortly after, I composed myself, put on clothes, and went with a friend to Shabbat lunch at our Rabbi’s house just as we do most Saturday afternoons. When we arrived, the range of emotions in the house was overwhelming. People were angry, sad, confused, numb because they had not fully processed the event or a combination. Vice Chancellor Kathy Humphrey and Dean Kenyon Bonner both stopped by several times throughout the day to check in, bring counselors from Student Health and offer their condolences. Our Rabbi gave a brief sermon, and we attempted to have lunch as normally as possible. The passion, love and friendship that filled the dining room of the Rabbi’s house was indescribable—I have never felt so connected to Judaism, Pitt or Pittsburgh.

Before the sun rose on Sunday morning, the number 11 surfaced as the official number of lives taken less than 24 hours before. I struggled to get myself together for the minyan (a meeting of Jews for public worship) that was held at our student center on campus. I prayed and cried and prayed some more as I sat beside my closest friends. Rabbi Shmuli talked about how we need to take this heinous act and use it as motivation to make the world a better place. Later in the day, a vigil was held at Soldiers and Sailors where leaders from the community from all different faiths and background addressed the shooting. Each leader encouraged the citizens of Pittsburgh to be strong like our steel city and promote peace. That is exactly what I intend to do.

The next few days, weeks, months and even years are not going to be easy, but I know that me and both my Jewish and Pittsburgh communities are strong, and we will get through this the best way we know how: together. Jewish organizations on campus are banding together to perform mitzvahs, acts of charity and kindness, in our community. Campus Rabbi Shmuli Rothstein said, “When a soul leaves this world we have the concept of Shiva, a seven day mourning period to feel the pain and be there for ourselves. During the Shiva period, there is a concept for those attending to take on a certain mitzvah in honor of the deceased.” This is why he started the 10,000 Lights Mitzvah Marathon. Students on campus are striving to collectively complete 10,000 acts of kindness and service in honor of the 11 lives that were taken at Tree of Life. For more information on the project, visit Chabad at Pitt’s Facebook page or contact Rabbi Shmuli.

At the vigil, Rabbi Jeffry Myers from the Tree of Life Synagogue said, “There is the possibility of hate in all people, but there is also the possibility of good… Good will always win out over evil.” Pittsburgh and its Jewish community will be strong and we will move forward while spreading love and peace along the way. Love will always win.

This article is in memory of a member of my Best Buddies family, Cecil Rosenthal, and his family.


Photo: 1, author’s own, Cecilia Kahle

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