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las vegas-inspired Wreaths

Carol Fenton

Carol, Corry and Chrissy at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.  Carol Fenton.

Brian Cohen

[Carol also pointed out two other similarities between the Las Vegas and Tree of Life shootings. Crosses for Losses carpenter Greg Zanis made the white crosses and the white stars of David for the two sites, respectively. Mr. Zanis is included in this Story Gallery. Both massacre sites were also recipients of seedlings from the 9/11 "Survivor Tree," rescued at Ground Zero, nursed back to health, and then replanted at the 9/11 memorial. For the story of the Survivor Tree and the annual gift of its seedlings to three communities which suffered tragedies, visit http://www.cyndybragg.com/the-survivor-of-911/ -ed.]

Las Vegas Review-Journal; 58 crosses, October 2017

Cyndy Bragg; Survivor tree on 9/11 and now

On October 5, 2018, my husband, Corry, and I returned home after spending a week at my daughter Chrissy’s home in Las Vegas. We had spent that week attending the memorial service, visiting the “Healing Garden” where 58 trees are planted, one for each victim, and participating in activities commemorating the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting that had occurred on October 1, 2017 during the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival. The three of us are survivors.

We were only home a couple of weeks when the Tree of Life was hit and it broke our hearts. Because of our proximity to Pittsburgh, we wanted to reach out to the survivors, the families who lost loved ones, and honor those who were lost. We wanted you to know we understood your pain and sadness.
.
Chrissy works with a young Jewish man, so we asked if I should get crosses and he advised against it. I found small grapevine wreaths and wrapped them with orange and purple ribbon, which are our Route 91 Festival colors. I wrote a note with our names, hometown and Psalm 147:3 from the Old Testament, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." I laminated the notes before attaching them to the wreaths, because I knew that they would sit out in the rain.

Corry and I took the wreaths to the synagogue a week later and placed one at each memorial. The smell of flowers filled the air, the sadness was overwhelming, and I stood at your memorial and cried. I asked Corry if everyone felt this sad or if it was because we knew what was ahead of you. One year later, I watched the memorial for the Tree of Life shooting on television and I heard a rabbi say, “Please give us time to heal.” I thought to myself, yes you will get better, but it’s going to take time.

Sometime after your shooting, I purchased a decorative, metal Tree of Life to hang in my living room. It reminds me of the tree in the center of the Healing Garden in Las Vegas and the tragedy which occurred within your synagogue. We may be strangers, but our lives became intertwined on October 27, 2018. We know the pain of a mass shooting, and the strength, resilience and courage it takes to keep moving forward - not just in the moment, but in the painful days after. But through it all, you find strength you didn't even know you had to keep moving forward and to keep surviving. We send our love to the victims’ families and survivors of the Tree of Life synagogue.

Carol & Corry Fenton and Chrissy Ammer

[On October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on an outdoor Las Vegas concert crowd of 22,000 from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, raining bullets down into their midst, killing 58 people and wounding over 800 more. Penned in by security fencing near the end of the catwalk and exposed to relentless gunfire, Carol and Chrissy eventually scrambled over the fence and took refuge under the catwalk. Corry is a Paramedic. He assisted people over the fence and treated and evacuated victims to a triage area. You can visit the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden at https://spark.adobe.com/page/YJDdbRoU5QfKP/
-ed.]

 

Paper Crane WREATH

Heather Dearman

7-20 memorial website

7-20 memorial website

[The bottom two images of the sculpture "Ascentiate" are from the 7-20 Memorial in Aurora, CO. The      12 translucent cranes represent the twelve victims. https://www.7-20memorial.org/  -ed.]

The circle of love never ends

My community and my family were affected by the July 20, 2012 Aurora theater shooting tragedy. Myself and other family members and survivors raised money for a permanent memorial as part of the 7-20 Memorial Foundation. We have been making wreaths out of origami cranes folded with good intention and adorned with positive thoughts, and sending them to other communities affected by similar tragedies. We send it to comfort them and believe it is a visual display of the amount of never-ending love and compassion that is abundant in this world. Every time we have made a wreath, it seems we meet someone connected to that community and the wreath always finds the perfect person to receive it. The design of our memorial, "Ascentiate," was inspired by the 1,000 paper cranes with notes on them that we received from O'Fallon, Missouri, which is how we came up with the idea of paying the love forward with paper cranes.

In August of 2018, I was giving a tour of our memorial and one of the participants belonged to the Kiwani Club of DTC. He asked me to make a presentation at their October meeting. I always love telling people about our memorial and how we pay the love forward. The meeting was on October 30, 2018, just three days after the tragedy at Tree of Life. When I mentioned that we were making a wreath for Tree of Life, one of the Kiwani members, Rich O'Brien, said that his son-in-law was a pastor living in Pittsburgh. I contacted Pastor Dennis Handley at the Swisshelm Park Primitive Methodist Church and he agreed to deliver the wreath. As with the other incidents to which we responded, when the tragedy at Tree of Life occurred, we took a blank wreath to several community events, so that people could add a paper crane with a note of hope and support to it. We finished the wreath in December of 2018 and Pastor Handley later sent me a note:

"I was able to schedule a meeting with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue...in the building they are currently using for their services. He shared quite a bit with me as to the things he has been involved with since the shooting. I then presented him with the wreath from your group and explained not only who the cranes were coming from, but also your mission to share your hope and healing with those who are going through similar situations as yours. I was also able to explain how the wreath got to me and the personal connection that was made between you and my father-in-law. He was extremely appreciative of the wreath and especially the sentiment behind it. Thank you again for letting us be a part of this presentation. It was very meaningful for all involved."

At the time, we were used to tragedy occurring once every few months, but the following year, there were four tragedies in a row, and we had four wreaths to complete. The beauty is that so many people were giving of their hearts and sharing their support every time we asked them to, and the wreaths filled up beautifully. I had collected and boxed up the four wreaths with letters the week after the seventh anniversary of our tragedy (2019).

Then the news of Gilroy, Dayton and El Paso hit. I felt filled with grief and hopelessness, wondering, how could we possibly ask for people to give more of their broken hearts and make three more wreaths? I was asking myself, "WHY? WHY? WHY?" and doubting if what we were doing was making a difference. At that moment, the mailman came to my desk with a letter from Tree of Life Synagogue, to whom we had sent the wreath over six months prior. They wrote, "Thank you for the paper crane wreath, your generosity gives us hope...Thank you for joining with others and proving we are stronger together." It all comes full circle. It reminded me that the gift of love is powerful and ageless.

 

Wooden Stars of David

Greg Zanis

Brian CohenBrian Cohen

Post Gazette


 

The centerpiece of the memorial were 11 white wooden Stars of David, each bearing the name of a victim, which materialized on synagogue property barely 24 hours after the shooting. Astute observers noticed that the stars were affixed to white wooden crosses. They were the creation of Gregory Zanis, a carpenter from Aurora, Ilinois and the founder of Crosses for Losses, whose mission is to erect crosses in honor of victims of mass shootings. Zanis’ motivation was his strong Greek-Orthodox Christian faith, which deeply reveres the Old Testament. He had made individual Stars of David for Jewish victims among those of previous massacres, but never for an attack whose victims were exclusively Jewish. He was hesitant at first, worried about inadvertently making a cultural misstep. His wife convinced him that he must honor the Pittsburgh victims, insisting that “excluding them would itself be an ‘act of hate.’”

His friend Anne Rosenberg, who met Zanis a year earlier at the Las Vegas shooting site, where she had brought therapy dogs, similarly argued that no one but he could honor the victims in the manner which mourners at these terrible events have come to expect. The day after the attack, Rosenberg and her colleagues from Crisis Response Canines met Zanis upon his arrival in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where he felt conspicuously out of place in his “Crosses for Losses” truck. He parked a few blocks away from the synagogue and walked the perimeter for more than an hour, until he felt he knew where God wanted him to place the stars: behind the police tape and directly in front of the synagogue building, where some flowers and stones already lay.

When he returned to his truck, confused passers-by asked him, “Don’t you know the victims are all Jewish?” They were overcome when he showed them the stars, and asked to assist Rosenberg’s team in off-loading and carrying them to the site. Zanis was relieved to have members of the local Jewish community help install the stars. As the procession moved towards the synagogue, other onlookers joined in. Rosenberg recalled making an effort to ensure that those who identified themselves as friends or relatives of a specific victim were able to help carry their loved one’s star. Zanis carried the last one, carefully holding the cross side against his chest, so only the Star of David was visible.

Talking about his contribution to the memorial, Zanis returned repeatedly to two themes. The first was that he was doing God’s work and sought no personal attention; he revealed that during the 20 years of his Crosses for Losses activity, beginning in 2000, every U.S. president had requested meetings and photographs with him at one of the sites, and he had rebuffed them all. The second was his concern that he might have unintentionally offended the Jewish community by simply showing up with the stars. He seemed genuinely relieved to hear that the congregations cherished loved and appreciated his contribution, and that the horizontal bars of the crosses on which the stars were mounted created shelves on which visitors could pile little stones – a traditional Jewish mourning custom. They were perfect.

[This account is based upon two conversations between Mr. Zanis and the editor and is excerpted from her recent essay, “Telling their Stories,” in Bound in the Bond of Life, edited by Beth Kisseloff and Eric Lidji (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020). After 20 years, 800,000 miles and more than 27,000 crosses, Mr. Zanis retired in December of 2019, citing the emotional toll of the endeavor. Sadly, he passed away in May of 2020. Lutheran Church Charities of Northbrook, Illinois, is continuing the Crosses for Losses project: https://www.lutheranchurchcharities.org/articles/category/crosses-for-losses.  -ed.]

Nurse's Tiny Cross

Anonymous

 From the editor:

At the end of the long, emotional day on which we disassembled the sidewalk memorial and moved the objects indoors, a woman appeared at the synagogue and handed me an impossibly tiny wooden cross. As I recall, she tole me that she was a nurse and had worked for numerous years with one of the victims, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz.

The cross, she explained, belonged to a patient she had nursed for many months, and when he eventually passed away, his family gave it to her. She had cherished it for many years, but now wanted us to have it. I thanked her, but looking at the hundreds of objects piled around me, urged her to keep it. She was insistent. Physically and mentally exhausted, I accepted her precious offering, but unfortunately let her leave without getting her name. The cross is safe in a jeweler’s box, but I wish we had her name and the details of her story properly recorded. If you are that nurse – or know who she is – please upload the full story through our portal or send email to me at stories@treeoflifepgh.org.

response to Christchurch Mosque attack

Laurie Eisenberg

Within the first hour after news of the synagogue shooting broke, it was immediately clear that people from all walks of life and all religions, races and ethnicities were rallying to support Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. At a hastily planned public memorial at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall the very next day, leaders from a wide variety of faiths assembled onstage and vowed to defeat hatred and strengthen bonds among the city's various ethnic and religious communities. I teach and study the Arab-Israeli conflict and was especially moved by Wasi Mohamed, then Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, who offered up his community members to stand guard at synagogues or otherwise support Pittsburgh’s Jews. In fact, Muslim communities across the country raised $230,000 for the victims of the synagogue attack, and Iranian Shay Khatiri, in the US seeking asylum, started a GoFundMe that raised another $1.2 million. I hoped then that the Jewish community would remember these and the many other examples of inter-faith support and respond accordingly when other communities suffered traumas.

Five months later, on March 5, 2019, a white supremacist perpetrated mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 Muslims and injuring 40 more during prayers. I thought of the “Stronger than Hate” signs that had popped up everywhere in Pittsburgh, based on the Pittsburgh Steelers' logo but modified to include a Jewish Star. I sat down at my computer and made yet another modification, to include the Islamic crescent and star symbol. I put one of the modified signs among the items from the October 27 sidewalk memorial, now viewable through a bank of glass doors at the synagogue. A group of us took a second one to the Islamic Center and planted it, along with another encouraging sign, where worshippers would see them upon arrival. I feel strongly that, having been the recipient of so much love in our time of crisis, we need to lift up others during their dark days.

[The Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh raised $670,000 from across the United States for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings, including $65,000 raised independently by Tree of Life congregation. -ed.]

 

Hockey Jersey, central wellington fusion

Jerry Meyer, Cliff Kurt (coaches)

Jerry Meyer/Michaela Long

Jerry Meyer/Michaela Long

JERRY MEYER: We traveled from a small community in southern Ontario to attend the Pittsburgh Veterans Cup tournament just shortly after the shooting. Prior to leaving, we had heard the devastating news of the attack and were heartbroken for the families and community. We saw on the news the start of a memorial and felt we should show our respect by visiting and taking a jersey to show our thoughts of unity with the community. The kids on our team were 12 years old at the time and moved by the memorial, as you can see by one of the pictures. We were proud of the maturity and thoughtfulness they showed in signing the jersey and laying it at the site.

CLIFF KURT: We didn't have anyone with direct connections to Pittsburgh, but the local fellow who sharpens our skates knew someone there. But basically, we are just Canadians and have big hearts. We left the jersey in our arena here, so anyone who wanted to sign it before we brought it to Pittsburgh could do so and were gratified by how many people stopped to sign. We thought bringing the jersey to the sidewalk memorial was a great team-building exercise and a kind gesture and were pleased to see that it did make an impression on the kids.

[The Central Wellington Fusion team won the Pittsburgh Veterans Cup tournament while they were in town. We thank them for taking the time to remember us, and congratulate them on their victory. -ed.]


Jerry Meyer/Michaela Long

 

thumbprint tree of life Sign

Valerie Zemaitis

Valerie Zemaitis

Eric Lidji

As the Assistant Principal of Munster High School in Indiana, I lead a group of students on the Student Advisory Council, which represents a diverse population. We try to hear the voices of our students and take action on their behalf. This tragic event that affected your congregation, although far away from us, touched our students' hearts. SAC didn’t want to ignore this act of hate and wanted to bring attention to it. One of our Jewish representatives reached out to Rabbi Zabrow of Temple Beth El, near us. In the end, SAC decided to provide an opportunity for students to be heard by leaving their thumbprints on a "Tree of Life," as a mark of their commitment to stand against hate. They made a sign to represent your Pittsburgh community and all students had an opportunity to leave their thumbprints, like leaves, on the "Tree of Life" as they passed it in a high-traffic hallway at our school. That sign then went to the local synagogue as a symbol of our unity, and their student members added their thumbprints in solidarity.

My family and I traveled to Pittsburgh to deliver this sign in November 2018. It was remarkable to see the kind gestures left behind by well-wishers. Many of the memorial items had been moved indoors, but we could see them through the glass doors. We laid the banner among the memorial stones, flowers and objects that were still outside. The boy in the picture with me is my youngest son, Jonny. We rolled up the poster and placed it on top of the bushes. With a heavy heart, I left the sign, along with a letter from Eli Nirenberg, a student who wanted to take one more step in sharing his grief and sadness.

Your story touched the hearts of our students. May the stories found on this website bring hope that we can live in a world of kindness and respect for one another.


 

HockeY Jersey, vaughan rangers

Derek Stern (Head Coach)

 

The Vaughan Rangers Select Hockey Team, which is located in a suburb just outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was participating in a hockey tournament in Pittsburgh in December 2018 called the 3 Rivers Cup. The coaching staff, led by Head Coach Derek Stern and Manager Jason Praw, decided it would be a very meaningful and impactful life lesson for the entire team, including parents, to visit this site, since we were in town so close after the shooting occurred. We came by team bus to pay our respects in front of the synagogue and then visited the nearby police station. We left behind a team jersey that was signed by the entire team and staff. We then distributed Canada's famous butter tarts (apparently a favorite of our American neighbours) at the police station along with a couple of Vaughan Rangers ball caps that were also signed by the team. This story struck close to home since a small number of players, as well as the entire coaching staff, are Jewish. It was the least we could do in this horrible situation and we hope it never happens again anywhere in the world!

Derek Stern

scarecrow & Letter to Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz

Louis DePellegrini

 

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz was my physician for 30 years. I frequently shared family problems and dynamics with him during office visits. He was a GREAT listener, never told me what I should do, but was always very responsive to every creative approach I thought of to deal with my issues. I could always sense that he was truly INTERESTED in my ideas.

I remember that cold, wet, gray day; the news of MY GOOD DOCTOR'S death felt unreal. My feeble way to handle my grief was to do what I've done with problems, and that was to do something creative. I began by writing a letter to MY GOOD DOCTOR, telling him what he meant to me. I also thought about MY GOOD MOM and found some consolation in thinking that they are both on the other side together.

I cut a cardboard heart, wrote a concise sentiment in my best handwriting and put together a symbol of my sorrow. The scarecrow belonged to my deceased mother. The feather relates to a story I remember telling MY GOOD DOCTOR. I had a macaw parrot named Sebastian. One day I discovered an egg in Sebastian's cage. I had to conclude that he was a she and that a parrot can lay an unfertilized egg. So I changed “his” name to Sister Mary Sebastian. After laughing, MY GOOD DOCTOR said, with a serious face, "I think some male parrots can lay eggs." We both had a good laugh! The feather belonged to Sister Mary Sebastian.

I put the letter in a plastic sleeve addressed to MY GOOD DOCTOR and left it and the scarecrow-and-feather offering among the objects in the memorial. I’ve cried buckets of tears; I miss him so much, and my mom, as well. I hope they have met each other; they would get along great. I hope I will be able to see them both again, when my own time comes.

 

Heart balloons

Emily Pesacreta

Emily Pesacreta

My son, Gavin, who was three at the time, wanted to take something and pay respect to all who lost their lives. I took him to the store and he picked out artificial flowers and two red heart balloons.

Rosary Beads

Anonymous

Brian Cohen

Brian Cohen

I am a Catholic, and have a deep devotion to Jesus' mother Mary. Our diocesan Bishop David Zubik is also a friend to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. This inspired what I put in the makeshift memorial. For Catholics, the Rosary is a very sacred prayer invoking help from God the Father, Jesus, and Blessed Mother Mary, especially in times of trouble. Rosary beads are also very sacred to Catholics as well.

A week after the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue, I bought 11 rosaries from the Sacred Heart Catholic gift shop in Bloomfield. I then went to the Giant Eagle on Murray Avenue nearby, and bought a dozen red roses. One of the 12 roses was not in good shape. But I needed only 11, one for each of the deceased. Then I put a rosary beads set on each of the 11 roses, had them still in a bundle, and placed them in the makeshift memorial.

I won't get into a whole explanation of the Rosary herein, but after the initial beginning prayers, we recite what are called five decades of the Rosary, where we cite events in Jesus' life, one Our Father, 10 Hail Mary's, one Glory be, then one Fatima prayer. After the five decades are completed, then there are the closing prayers. It takes about 15 minutes to recite.

When I presented these 11 flowers and 11 rosaries, instead of reciting five decades of the Rosary, I stood at the site, and I reflected on the events of Jesus, but recited 11 decades of the Rosary, for each of the 11 deceased victims.

So while Catholics, and other Christians, may have different beliefs from our Jewish brothers and sisters, we are still all God's children. As such, this was what I felt called to do, to pray for the repose of the souls of the 11 deceased victims, those who were injured but survived, the families and friends of the deceased and injured, for the Jewish community throughout the world, and for us all here in the Greater Pittsburgh region.

[This storyteller requested anonymity. In all, over two dozen rosaries were retrieved from the memorial. -ed.]

Painted Rocks

Debbie and Mike Gregor

Brian Cohen

Debbie and Mike GregorDebbie and Mike Gregor

 

 

I am a Christian and when I heard about the shooting, I felt an overwhelming urge to do something as a tribute to those who tragically lost their lives in the Tree of Life massacre. I had been painting rocks and hiding them around my neighborhood for people to find as a random act of kindness and decided that I would paint rocks to place at the Tree of Life synagogue. The three roses are for the ladies and the eight trees with white doves are for the men...the four teardrops are for the wounded policeman... the 11 butterflies symbolize those who were slain and their assent to Heaven...the praying hands represent all the prayers for their families and loved ones.

When my husband, Mike, and I went to the Tree of Life synagogue, our hearts were heavy as we walked by the massive array of mementos. You could physically feel the sadness and also the overwhelming outpouring of love and compassion. We were seeking out the garden we had heard about, so we could place the rocks there. It was then that we noticed a man taking pictures and we stopped to talk. I told him about my rocks and that I wanted them to all be placed together. He took an interest and sat down with us to look at them. He said he was Jewish and his name was Brian. We expressed our sympathy and then to my amazement, he said he was there to document the mementos and asked if he could take pictures of the rocks and of us and stated that they would be placed in the Heinz History Center...such an unexpected and humbling experience. Our hearts go out to all the families and loved ones of the victims.

[The photographer is Brian Cohen, who extensively photographed the memorial on behalf of the three affected congregations. Some of the beautiful photographs in this gallery were taken by him. We are grateful for Brian's thoughtful interactions with the objects he photographed - and with the people who brought them. -ed.]

Stones

Jessica Zozom

I left 11 stones outside the building. They were further towards one of the trees along Shady Avenue, that line the side of the main sanctuary; I left them at the base of the trees in a cluster. I could not leave them in the flood of items by the memorial, as I couldn't get up there, there were so many people. I think it was the day that President Trump was due to make a visit later in the afternoon. I was picking up my son from the Jewish Community Center in a little while, so I went early so I could visit Tree of Life and have a moment for myself to be there.

I parked on Forbes and continued on foot, collecting  the stones as I walked. It was so crowded, with so many people I did not know. I chose stones along the way that were solid and dense enough in size to have meaning. I wanted a way to show I was there and that I visited, since I knew I would not have a chance to put a stone at each of the victim's actual grave. It was a difficult for me to walk up there, there were so many emotions I had and still have. I grew up in this building and this congregation. The stones are not much, and you obviously do not know which ones I left, but I wanted you all to know that I was there and I left them.

St. Bede Choir

Raymond Werner

Raymond WernerRaymond Werner

Like all of Pittsburgh, we were devastated by the horrific hate crime at the Tree of Life building. Before mass the next day at neighboring St. Bede, where I’m in the choir under the direction of Jennifer Gorske, we wondered what hymns to sing. What would be appropriate? One we selected was the gorgeous “We Have Only One Life to Live.” A young lady in our choir burst into tears. One of the victims, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, was her personal physician. Our pastor, Fr. Tom Burke, who also is a chaplain for the Pittsburgh Police, said we would, of course, offer our mass for the victims. And spontaneously, after mass: “Let’s make a procession up to the synagogue and pay our respects.” We took with us the flowers in the vestibule.

We walked slowly so even our feeble parishioners with walkers could make the two-block hike up Wilkins Avenue. The crime scene was packed with camera crews from everywhere. One of our choir members started to sing the St. Francis classic, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” We joined in and so did most everyone else, including the cameraman beside me. A chill went up our spines. That hymn was never sung more beautifully, ever.

[Ray Werner writes about a resonance between the response to the shooting by Pittsburgh and its Jewish community and Sandy Koufax’s response to an anti-Semitic incident Werner witnessed 55 years earlier at Forbes Field: https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/thank-you-sandy-koufax/.  -ed.]

American Flags

Lillian Wolff

Brian Cohen

I’d seen the pictures of objects that had been left and felt that I just wanted to show my support. So on the Tuesday after the incident, I brought two American flags and placed them on either side of the memorial. Sadly, they reminded me that this evil was perpetrated by a local man who was an American. But they remain flying as a symbol of patriotic freedom and peace.

Wooden Hearts

Taylor Bushroe

I am 23 years old from Fort Wayne, Indiana. I heard of the heartbreaking tragedy on the news. I was able to visit Pittsburgh and made time to walk around the synagogue to offer silent respects, saw all of the beautiful artwork and was greatly touched by how powerful it was. I am a strong advocate for Art Therapy and its benefits and believe that even simple creative things are good for the soul. I knew in my heart that I needed to create some pieces out of love to add to the precious memorial; I also knew one of my talents is painting, so I chose to work with wood and paint. When I got back to Fort Wayne, I designed two wooden hearts, used acrylic paint and lots of clear coats to write “Love will always win” and “You matter, you are so loved” on the hearts. I returned to Pittsburgh for the first anniversary of the shooting and used zip ties to add the painted wooden hearts to the fence where the memorial had been and where new flowers and artwork were again accumulating. I hope that the hearts can remind each person of their worthiness and be a reminder that love is still strong!

Prayers for Peace binder

Daniel Rovin

Daniel Rovin

Daniel Rovin

Daniel Rovin

Although I teach at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, I grew up in South Carolina, where I formed my Jewish identity. I grew up with a great rabbi, Marc Wilson, and great friends, including current Pittsburgh resident Elliot Carnivale. One of the things that drew me to Judaism at a young age was community, and one of the few friends I commit to visiting regularly is Elliot and his wife Whitney. It just so happened that I had a trip planned to visit Pittsburgh in what happened to be the week after the tragic events at Tree of Life.

The attack left the entire Jewish community wondering why such events would happen, and as you can imagine, it aroused a lot of questions and anger from my concerned sixth graders. One of the main questions was, “How can we help?” What I kept coming back to in my answer to that question, was that we just have to support the community in any way that we can. We have to show them that their pain is our pain, that we are thinking about them and their loved ones. We have to show them that we are one community and that they are not alone.

One prayer has always stuck with me from my days at Congregation Beth Israel in Greenville, S.C. Really, the only one we would recite in English that had ever resonated with me. Rabbi Wilson made this a staple of shachrit – the Prayer for Peace. I loved the eloquence, the imagery, the powerful notions of peace filling the earth as the waters fill the sea. When I opened the siddur and looked at the class list, I noticed that we had the same number of students as we had lines in that prayer. Since I was going to Pittsburgh within the week, we decided to try and show the Jewish community there that we were thinking of them in the best way we knew how. I assigned each student one line of the prayer to hand write on a piece of paper. Then they decorated the pages, and my wonderful wife laminated them for us at her charter school, so that they could hopefully withstand as many wondering eyes and Pittsburgh rains as possible. We made three copies and I put each one in a binder, and plastered “Read Me” on the front of each one. Then I headed west to Pittsburgh.

The next morning when we went to the shul, I didn’t know what to expect. I was unsure if I would even be able to leave the binders at the memorial site. When we walked up and saw the beautiful flowers and pictures stretched along the sidewalk, we decided to spread the binders out – one on each side and one in the middle. When I placed mine down, I saw what I wish all of our students could have seen. A little girl no more than five years old picked up the binder, and her grandmother started reading it to her. As I write this, it is impossible to hold back the emotion that moment evokes. Emotions of sadness, of course, but an overwhelming feeling of hope also fills my body, like the waters filled the sea.

I know my learners did not get to see it personally, but I could tell how hopeful my account of the visit to the memorial site made them feel. They are usually a rowdy bunch, but they were captivated as I described what it was like there.

Their first thought about making a difference was giving money. It can be hard to find real opportunities for children that age to make a difference, even though they want to. In all my years of teaching, not surprisingly, I feel like this project changed my students unlike any other. Through the tragedy, they were able to experience the power of the Jewish community, and how their love for their fellow humans can change the world more than anything else.

Metal Wall Sculptures

Maxine Plotkin

Maxine PlotkinMaxine Plotkin

The day of the shooting, George Lampman, Pittsburgh metal smith and Shop artist, called the shop to say he wanted to create something to honor the victims. George, who was fighting pancreatic cancer, designed and created beautiful Tree of Life metal wall sculptures which were sold in the shop, with proceeds going to the Tree of Life Congregation, Congregation Dor Hadash, and New Light Congregation, all three of which were sharing space in the Tree of Life synagogue building. "October 27, 2018" is etched onto the memorial version of the sculpture. Three of those sculptures also have the victims’ names etched upon them, and one sculpture was donated to each congregation.

Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, of Tree of Life Congregation, spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church during an Urban League event on a Sunday in February 2019. The Center Shop participants presented the rabbi with a memorial sculpture. George promised Rabbi Meyers that he would create a larger version, and although George passed away just weeks later, he kept his promise. After his death, smaller Tree of Life sculptures that George designed but was unable to finish, were lovingly painted by his daughter Aileen and wife Andrea. All proceeds were given to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the global Jewish non-profit organization that protects refugees of all faiths and ethnicities, and also the organization that provoked the shooter's rage for their good deeds and compassion.

[Maxine Plotkin is the former manager of The Center Shop, Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media, located just a half-mile from Tree of Life synagogue building. -ed.]

Maxine Plotkin

Fused Glass tree of life Platter

Nina Schatzkamer Miller

Nina Schatzkamer Miller

I didn't leave something at the memorial, but I have been making Tree of Life kiln fired fused glass platters ever since the shooting. I sell them at Artisans in the Loop art gallery in St. Louis and the owner, Wendy Cohen Harris, and I send checks to Tree of Life from each of our shares every time one is sold. People all over the country have bought them to honor the memory of those slain. Wendy is originally from the Squirrel Hill neighborhood and still feels ties to the community. My sister, Laura Schatzkamer, lived in Squirrel Hill until recently and is a friend of Andrea Wedner. On the day of the shootings, Wendy and I were in the gallery together listening, horrified, to the news. We felt compelled to do something to help and the glass tree platters are the result. Just last week, the first sale on the re-opening of the gallery (we were shut for two months because of the pandemic), was of a Tree of Life platter.

Baseball

Jeff Rosenthal

Irv Younger helped me coach baseball for over 10 years. He was my right hand man. We coached high school, Super Colt, Colt, Pony and Little League. He was 100 percent committed to helping the kids, even after our sons aged out of eligibility. Irv always insisted on giving a "game ball" to a team member, whether we won or lost. Even if we lost the game by 20 runs, he would find a glimmer of success for one of the kids. I hope Irv knew how much he meant to the kids and me. Over the years he influenced literally hundreds of kids.

I wrote "Irv, this game ball is for you" on a baseball and left it at the sidewalk memorial. He finally got his own game ball. The community lost a silent leader. He will be missed by so many!

[This photo shows baseballs at the foot of Irv's wooden star in the reconstituted memorial, visible from outside through glass doors at the Tree of Life synagogue building. Jeff's baseball is the one in the middle. -ed.]

Wedding Bouquets

Samantha Wallace Ecker

Samantha Wallace Ecker

Samantha Wallace Ecker

Eight years ago I moved to central Pennsylvania, but I met my husband,  Eric Ecker, in Pittsburgh and we knew we wanted to be married there, and we were -- at The Fairmont...on October 27, 2018.

I had just sat down to get my hair and makeup done for the wedding when I started seeing news alerts on my phone. I was shocked and horrified that something like this was happening in a place I knew so well – especially when my mom realized that her friend Lauren’s mother-in-law, Rose Mallinger, attended Tree of Life. We had seen Lauren and her husband Alan (Rose’s son) the night before at a pre-wedding cocktail party and were expecting to see them at the wedding that night.  My mom made a couple of phone calls and discovered that Rose and her daughter, Andrea Wedner, were at the synagogue during the attack and that Andrea was in the hospital. There was no news on Rose until much later, which was, of course, the worst news. We didn’t know that when the reception began, but we acknowledged the attack and held a moment of silence before saying grace or making any toasts.

 It was a surreal day – we were checking our phones and TV newscasts constantly, until the ceremony started in the early evening. I wanted to enjoy the day, and I did, but I also felt guilty for that enjoyment. I had planned to have my wedding bouquet dried and preserved, but on the Monday after my wedding -- two days after the attack -- I drove over to the makeshift memorial and left my bridal bouquet and two of my bridesmaids' bouquets among the flowers there. It seemed more important to leave behind a memento of love for the victims than it was for me to keep it. I promised myself that I’ll never forget about the attack or gloss over it in favor of my own happy memories of that day. No matter what else October 27 means to me, it will also always be a day of solidarity, remembrance and action against hatred.

Candle Stub

Kerry Jo Green

Kerry Jo Green

The evening of the shooting, when we all turned out for the rainy candlelight vigil at Forbes and Murray, there was a woman there passing out candles. They were slim white tapers, and I recognized them instantly as from the collection - in a drawer somewhere in the house - that every Catholic mother has for Advent. It looked like this woman had dumped her drawerful into a bag and brought them to the vigil. It reminded me so much of my childhood, growing up Catholic, and reminded me how interfaith our grief and love are. I left one candle stub at the memorial and brought the other one with me when I moved to Boston, to study history at America's only secular Jewish university, Brandeis.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

FELTED Wool Hearts

Amy Raslevich

I live near the Tree of Life building and happened to be at Shady and Northumberland shortly after the initial 911 calls came in. It was in every other way such a typical fall day in our neighborhood. I always associate autumn with the bright and beautiful colors, but the other side of the season is the sadness and fading together of those bright colors, drying into gray. I tried to capture that in the crocheted hearts that I made and felted and placed on each memorial star. The bright colors in the wool yarn faded and blended together as I felted the hearts, but the fundamental colors remained. The hearts themselves shrunk in the process, forming stronger bonds between the threads that had not been present before. What I wanted to express was that even as the pain of that Saturday begins to fade, it will not be erased, and forever the memory of the individuals taken from us will be bound together to strengthen the heart of our community.

[The upper heart is crocheted only; the lower one has also been felted.  -ed.]

"LOVE" Bottle Openers

Kathryn Feeny

I lived in Squirrel Hill, back in the ‘80s, on Denniston Ave., just a few blocks from the Tree of Life building. I probably passed it every day. I have very fond memories of such a great town and the people there. In July of 2018, I got married and these Love bottle openers were our wedding favors, and I happened to have a dozen extra. We didn’t choose them because they were bottle openers, we chose them because we felt this world needs more love. When the shooting happened, I couldn’t stop thinking about the wonderful people of Squirrel Hill. In times like that you just feel helpless and want to do anything to ease people's suffering, no matter how small the gesture. Bringing love to the grieving was all I could think of to do.

poem & Panels of HEarts

Michelle Lubetsky

Michelle LubetskyMichelle Lubetsky

What do you say to a three-year old?

What do you say to a three-year old when the world comes tumbling down?

When eleven neighbors are heinously murdered in your backyard?

When it feels like the world stopped spinning and all sense of normalcy is gone?

What do you say to a three-year old to acknowledge the passing year, when evil overcame good, when every fiber of your being was diminished by sorrow and grief?

You say to that innocent, delightful toddler, come with Mimi and we’ll create something new!
You lead him to the porch that overlooks a somber Tree of Life, our workplace for healing.
You show him the bright colors of life, the ribbons of hope, and glue of binding love.
You guide him to create a palette of loving kindness to promote goodness and compassion.
You assist him to display his captivating artwork proudly, for all to see.

[Pictures show the panels of hearts that Michelle and grandson Liam hung outside the synagogue on Shady Avenue, for the one year commemoration of the massacre. -ed.]

6,000,011 Stone

Katherine A. Kaplan-Locke

Katherine A. Kaplan-Locke

Katherine A. Kaplan-Locke

I was at home at the time when I heard the horrifying news about a shooting at Tree of Life synagogue. I remember watching the news while tears streamed down my face. I couldn't tear my eyes away from it, I was in shock. I had been there for two bar mitzvahs, one bat mitzvah, and a wedding in years past. My aunt and her family had been members there for many years. I felt absolutely devastated and angry at the senseless murder of 11 people at services. I called my aunt, Barbara (Kaplan) Young, who now lives in Chicago, to share my condolences with her. She was beside herself; she had gone to nursing school in Pittsburgh many years ago with Bernice Simon, who became a friend and was now a victim. She knew most of the other victims as well. My aunt was 83 at the time of the shooting.

In Judaism, it is traditional to leave a stone on the grave of the deceased due to the permanency of the object as opposed to flowers. With a heavy heart, I found a stone and wrote on one side "Am Yisrael Chai" - Hebrew for "the people of Israel shall live." Above that I wrote the number 6,000,011, in memory of the 11 Jews murdered by a fascist in Pittsburgh, along with the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. I dated it on the other side and inscribed it "in memory of those who perished."

I went to the memorial site in Squirrel Hill, laid the stone down among the other commemorative objects, and said the Mourner's Kaddish prayer for the victims of this horrendous crime against humanity.

Writing my story still brings tears to my eyes and a heavy sadness in my heart for the increased episodes of anti-Semitic assaults now occurring in our country...again. People need to know: enough is enough. We will stand up. We will not be silenced. Our voices will be heard as one. I've been told that people noticed and remembered my painted stone.  It makes me feel better to know that I touched other people with such simple art work.

Painted Rocks

Barbara D. Sims

Barbara D. Sims

When I heard about the Tree of Life tragedy, I thought, "Oh no! Not again, not here in America!" I felt broken-hearted and wanted to do something to show that we are all one family under God. I am an artist, so I shared some of my art. My contribution was rocks painted blue, with the white Star of David and a heart in the middle. I was brought up to believe that the Jews are the Chosen People and that we are all God’s children. I was taught this at home as well as at school. I am not Jewish, but was well-instructed about the historical significance of the Holocaust, both at home and at school. I didn’t sign the rocks because this was a time for unity, not for individual recognition.

[After the fact, Barbara graciously agreed to allow us to publish her name along with her story and photo of her painted rocks. -ed.]

Book

Karen Seibert

Karen Seibert

I left a book I wrote to save my son from heroin, along with my MS medicine syringe - the needle is broken off so it can't be used again or hurt anyone. My granddaughter drew the cover.  Maybe someone will take it home and read it and get well. Let's get this country off this bad path.

 

[Karen's book was not found when the sidewalk memorial was dismantled, so we are hopeful that someone who could benefit from it did indeed take it home. -ed.]

Blue and White Stones

Sara Henry

Henry blue and white stones

I've been working with the Jewish Association on Aging for several years and when the news broke, my heart stopped, knowing as I did that some of our residents go to Tree of Life for services. Later I found out that the bus taking them there had been late by five minutes, essentially saving lives. My family, all Christians, heard the news, saw the tragedy and could not comprehend why or how anyone could do such a thing, just because someone practiced a different religion. My aunt, in particular, became determined to go to the memorial and leave something, but wasn't sure what was appropriate, as she was not versed in Jewish mourning customs. I suggested leaving a stone, as was customary, and she readily agreed. She arrived with beautiful, shiny, colorful stones of blue and white; I hadn't thought to tell her that a simple stone would suffice. Her heart was heavy and despite her own difficulties walking, she placed one of those stones at every memorial. Later we talked about Jewish customs and opened a dialogue with the entire family about how hate is not something we want in this city.

White Dove Ornament

Sue Link

I left a white dove Christmas ornament, in honor of the people we lost. Doves are supposed to be a symbol of peace. I knew Dr. Rabinowitz from my time working at Shadyside Hospital. This experience is a constant reminder of the evil in the world; like the Holocaust, 9/11 and all the mass shootings, this should NEVER be forgotten.

Shalom Sign

David Lawrence Snyder

THANK YOU for taking the time and effort to document and preserve this story of the good people of Pittsburgh spontaneously - and creatively - expressing their sorrow; I extend my sympathies to the congregations in the Tree of Life building, and to the Squirrel Hill community, in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy. God Bless you all.

On the day of the shooting, my first instinct was , “Where are my Jewish friends?  My buddies?”  These are good people and I love them like brothers. I’ve known them since 1967, our sophomore year at McKeesport Senior High School. Later that morning, I eventually heard back from both of them. They were in a state of shock at the horror, like everyone else, but otherwise physically fine.

A few days later, I had the impulse to make a "Shalom Sign." I wanted it to be a tribute to the fallen and a message of love and peace for the rest of us. I entered my shop area and hastily gathered up available materials. I sketched an inspiration on the back of an envelope. Nearing completion of the sign, I suddenly realized that none of the items used in its production were meant to be exposed to the weather. The backboard was one-quarter inch interior grade plywood. The letters were written in magic marker, colored highlighters and a ballpoint pen. The Star of David, the focal point of the sign, was made from a piece of white vinyl with an adhesive backing. The blue edges of the Star’s intersecting triangles were fashioned from painters tape. But I wanted to deliver the sign before the next Sabbath, so on Friday, Nov. 2, my wife Janice and I placed the sign amongst the many memorials, tributes and flowers outside the synagogue building. Some displays were already showing significant wear; I saw letters reduced to smears and running ink on rain soaked poster board. I was praying my little artistic effort would fare better. The forecast called for lots of rain. We said our prayers for those tragically lost, spoke to a few folks, then bid the scene farewell. After four rainy days of worry that my efforts would be all for naught, I returned to Pittsburgh, taking along a box of tools and materials to repair the sign. I would not need them. When I gazed upon my work from a distance, I was shocked to see that it still looked good. Even up close, the display was in excellent condition.  My thought was, and others concurred, the Good Lord wanted that message to get out. 

memorial Calendar

Lauren Dolby

When I was 14, I witnessed the murder of a police officer, a high school friend of my father’s (March 25, 1972). I never have to look up that date; it has been embedded in my mind since that Saturday, along with every detail, including the shooter’s name. My parents did not let me come forward and speak to the police about what I witnessed. There were other witnesses, they said. They were concerned for my welfare. I understand that, but I still struggled with their decision. I vowed that day that if I ever witnessed anything again, no matter the scale, I would come forward. Thankfully, I have not witnessed anything as severe, but I have made police reports for any incidents I have witnessed ever since. 

All of those memories came back vividly when I heard about the shooting at the Tree of Life. I ran some errands early that day; came home and put the TV on. I heard what happened and I was glued to the TV for the rest of the day.

I felt like I needed to do something, even if it was just to drive down to the Tree of Life in support. I heard that leaving stones on the grave was a practice of the Jewish faith, so I took 11 stones and my camera. One of my hobbies is to go around Pittsburgh and take photos. I felt the need to document the memorial, although at the time I just felt the need to take photos.

Later, I had the idea to create a calendar for the upcoming year. I make a Pittsburgh calendar every year for family and friends; it is part of their Christmas present from me. For this memorial calendar, I dedicated one month to each victim; January was for the youngest victim, November for the eldest. I debated whether I should add comments about their lives, but I decided to have only the white wooden star with their name on it from the memorial. If I added comments, I would only be repeating what I heard about each victim, and those who knew them knew much more about them than I could ever share. I needed something for December. I decided to use a variety of photos from the memorial for December, as a reminder of the love and support Pittsburghers had for those who lost their lives. Out of this horrific tragedy, strangers came to show their support for your community, which is part of OUR community. My hope is that the last calendar image for the year would be signs of love, support, and hopefully at least a little encouragement, moving into 2019.

ETCHED Stone

Janice Rizzo & Tracey Kniess

"Scatter seeds of kindness and find peace" is etched on a stone made by "A Stone's Throw Garden Art" to honor all who are victims of hate. Even though we didn't know the victims personally, we are all touched by senseless acts of violence. Our hope is that the seeds of kindness have been planted and will bear the fruit of peace.

Framed Wallenberg Leaves

Bob Bukk

The day after this tragedy, my wife Jane and I, who are Christians, departed Pittsburgh with a group from Congregation Beth Shalom for a trip to Israel. One of our tour stops was Masada. I felt it would be a nice gesture to bring back 11 stones from that site, but left without doing so. We also visited Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Center. Knowing a bit about Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and how he is honored as a  “Righteous Among the Nations” for saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, I collected 11 leaves from the tree planted in his honor. Back home, I placed them in individual black frames and scattered them at the Tree of Life sidewalk memorial. My gesture is meant to show that we are all part of the grieving process.

[It is illegal to remove stones from Masada, as it is illegal to remove natural items from a national park in the U.S. The fallen leaves from Yad Vashem were a thoughtful and moving alternative choice. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust before his arrest by the Soviets in 1945 and disappearance into the Gulag. Yad Vashem  confers the honorific “Righteous Among the Nations” on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. -ed.]

Pittsburgh Marathon Runner

Matt Scoletti

Matt Scoletti

Matt Scoletti

My name is Matt Scoletti and I LOVE the City of Pittsburgh! I was born and raised around the city, although my wife Steph and I live in Gibsonia now.

Steph and I were out of town at the time of the shooting on October 27. When we flew back into Pittsburgh, it felt different in our city. Quieter. Less energized. I told Steph I had to do something to prove that LOVE is more powerful than hate. I decided to run the Pittsburgh Marathon (my first marathon) while wearing an 11 pound weight vest. One pound for every victim.

The training was tough with an extra 11 pounds but I had such a strong reason WHY I was running this marathon that nothing would ever stop me. As the marathon approached, the media got hold of what I was doing and a few articles were released. Runner's World was one of them and they told the entire story very well. 

Since the Pittsburgh Marathon, I've done multiple speeches for the Jewish Community Center and told my story of running the marathon to honor the victims. There were so many positive acts that people did to prove how strong Pittsburgh is and how much stronger LOVE is than hate. I pray for the 11 victims and their families every time I go for a run and I think of them as I run.

[Bottom picture is Matt with Tree of Life vice-president Alan Hausman, at the finish line. See the Runner's World article here: https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a27511429/matt-scoletti-pittsburgh-marathon/  -ed.]

Cycling with Jerry Rabinowitz

Amy Nathan

Amy Nathan

Amy Nathan

For over 15 years, just about every Sunday morning in the summertime and fall, Jerry [Rabinowitz], my husband (Paul Levine), Stew Bleckman and I would meet up at the Highland Park tennis courts and go for a bike ride. We also joined other friends on many occasions to participate in organized bike rides which benefited various charities. Jerry would always be sporting his whistle to alert any traffic that bikers were present. He carried on his waist a fanny pack filled with medical supplies, just in case something happened to one of us. His priority was to make sure we were safe. But most memorably, he showed up every week with his huge smile, hearty laugh and positive attitude, all of which were infectious. After so many years of our weekly ritual, Jerry decided to cut back on our bike rides, so that he could devote more time to his duties and interest in Dor Hadash, which had grown over time to become his passion. There are certain spots along our many bike routes that will always remind me of Jerry: a particular hill in Sewickley, a Sheetz in Sharpsburg, a rest stop on the second day of the MS Ride. I can go there and imagine him still by my side. I made and left this sign at the memorial sometime during the first few days after the shooting.

[Jerry is at far left in the upper photo, second from the left in the lower one. -ed.]

"In Memoriam" Candle

Mark Abramowitz

Mark Abramowitz

 

I placed this white "In Memoriam" candle at the Tree of Life sidewalk memorial on Sunday, October 28, the day after the shootings. It was originally the yahrzeit candle for my father who died in 1997, and had been gathering dust on a shelf in my closet ever since then. This seemed like a more fitting and suitable use for it.

Mark Abramowitz

 

"Beautiful Dreams" Painted Rock

Anonymous

I do not have a picture of the flowers we left, but I have a story about a painted rock. My mother, sister and I visited the memorial on November 4, 2018 and left flowers. I felt so lost when the shooting happened and when I stood there at the memorial. Shootings have always saddened me, but I always thought that Pittsburgh was different, that we had a kind and caring neighborhood, and that we cared for everyone. But people who do bad things are everywhere, even in the very heart of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. I didn't lose anyone in the shooting and I don't know how I would have continued on if I had.

I saw a painted rock that day that said "beautiful dreams." I have included the picture of this rock. It is not mine, but it stayed with me, because it is what I hold onto on days when I'm scared or sad. I wish for beautiful dreams of kindness and peace. I wrote on the one year anniversary:
Be kind to people, today and everyday.
Hold your loved ones close.
Look for (and be) a helper.
Celebrate differences.
Have beautiful dreams and work to make them a reality.
Pray your soul out, but don't be afraid to act.
I still, after all this time, believe we are stronger together and stronger than hate.

[This storyteller requested anonymity. -ed.]

NYC Marathon Medal & T-shirt

Sarah Davies

Sarah Davies

Sarah Davies

Sarah Davies

On the morning of October 27, 2018, I was sewing last minute touches on to my kids' Halloween costumes. We got a call from a friend working at Presbyterian Hospital alerting us that there was an active shooter situation at Tree of Life. We live a half a mile away. I had many times sat in my own synagogue with thoughts of a gunman entering. I started shaking and crying, knowing that what I feared was actually occurring down the street.

My family attended the community gathering at Soldiers and Sailors, but I could not bring myself to walk by the Tree of Life building that next week. We flew to New York on Friday, November 2, as I had been training for the New York Marathon. This would be my fifth marathon. There were previous occasions on which significant events or emotions motivated my running. I ran the Cleveland marathon in honor of my brother-in-law, who had recently been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I ran the Boston marathon the first year after the bombing. I had not planned on a tragedy fueling this one.

When we arrived in New York, I bought a pack of Sharpie markers and penned a message of hope on the back of my running shirt; I also identified myself as a Jewish Pittsburgher. As I ran through the five boroughs of New York, there were times that I cried and times that I smiled. Many fellow runners called out words support as I passed them, and others thanked me for wearing the shirt. While it was not my fastest marathon, I felt strong throughout. The NYC marathon will forever be linked in my mind to the events surrounding the Tree of Life attack.

When we arrived back in Pittsburgh on Monday, November 4, I had the courage to walk with my children to the incredible memorial that was being created on the Tree of Life sidewalk. I left a bouquet, my marathon finisher's medal, and the t-shirt that I wore while running. For me, it was significant to display a message of solidarity and hope while running the marathon to the thousands of people there -both runners and spectators. It also felt personal and meaningful for me to leave these things at the memorial. For me, the items symbolized the strength of the Je
wish community, the strength of the Pittsburgh community, and the power of loss to intensify determination and will.

Seashell

Anonymous

We placed a large scalloped seashell with our family names on the inside and a Jewish star on the outside at the sidewalk memorial to offer sympathy to the entire Tree of Life family. One grandfather had a shoe repair shop on Murray Avenue and the other grandfather was a landscaper in Squirrel Hill. His brother did the landscaping for Tree of Life. Our parents graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School. The seashell represents the journey that our ancestors made from the shores of Italy to the shores of the USA; many Squirrel Hill residents made similar journeys here. After settling in Squirrel Hill, my relatives had many friendships with the faithful Jewish community of Squirrel Hill.

 

[This storyteller requested anonymity -ed.]

Israeli Memorial Candle

Marc Leibman

My wife Pat and I traveled to Israel in November 2018, shortly after the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue building, with a group from St. Boniface Church, led by Father Larry DeNardo. We said prayers for the victims at the Mt. of Olives and the Wailing Wall. The group asked me to take a memorial candle from Israel to the Tree of Life upon our return. I left that candle at the memorial in front of the synagogue. No one was there at the time, so I could not convey a message to anyone from the congregations. I just left the candle there.

 

[Marc's tall candle is to the left of the pumpkin. -ed.]

6,000,011 Stone, Part 2

Janice Herzer

Brian Cohen

I had visited the memorial near the synagogue during the first few days and many times after. I was one of many others there for the same reason. A woman came up next to me with the stone that clearly read "6,000,011." She noticed me watching and told me, "That we may never forget." I don't know her name. We both felt the pain and shared a hug. I am an avid reader about WWII. May we never forget. May it never be repeated. God's peace to all.

[The stone's artist is Katherine A. Kaplan-Locke, who has her own entry in the story gallery. -ed.]

Elsa, the Therapy Dog

Janet DiPaolo

Janet DiPaolo

I didn't leave anything, play an instrument or sing a song. I did visit with my dog, Elsa, who was a certified therapy dog under Therapy Dogs International and a member of Children's Hospital Pet Friends program. We walked up to the memorial several times and she provided comfort to many mourners. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with leukemia just a couple months later and is now deceased. She was only four years old.

grandchildrens' b'nai mitzvah Photographs

David and Fran Fall

These photos, from top to bottom, represent our four grandchildren and the sign in front of Tree of Life Congregation announcing their bar or bat mitzvah day. They are Danni Caplan, Teddy Irwin, Jesse Weisbord, and Alex Weisbord. That four-year progression represented not only their generation, but the generations before and those that will follow, with their children. The chain will not be broken! Like other events in Jewish and world history, before and now, and unfortunately in the future, we will continue to somehow survive, despite hate and evil. 

[The final image is a Rob Rogers cartoon which speaks to the Falls' contextualizing the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting within history by connecting it with Kristallnacht, (the Night of Broken Glass) which took place in Germany on November 9-10, 1938, when Nazi thugs and citizen mobs broke windows and set fire to Jewish homes, shops and synagogues. -ed.]

Flowers for Rose

Vincent Allen

Brian Cohen

As a Pitt student in the 1980’s, I worked as a teller at Dollar Bank on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill. I will never forget the man who stepped-up to my window one afternoon. As he handed me his transaction, I saw the numbers tattooed on his arm. I think about him often, how he survived evil. I thought of him every time I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I thought of him when I stepped into the room there filled with shoes, and wondered if his shoes were among them.

I bought flowers from the Squirrel Hill Flower Shop on Murray Avenue and placed them in front of the temporary memorial for Rose Mallinger, because I read that she had survived the Holocaust. Regardless of the accuracy of that report, I thought about Rose and I thought back to that man who stepped up to my teller window, and how he had survived evil.

Together, we will also survive evil, through love and compassion. God bless all the victims of senseless evil. We will remember you all while we continue the fight against ignorance.

[Rose Mallinger, 97, was not a Holocaust survivor. -ed.]

coffee & Yellow roses

Cantor Michal Gray-Schaffer

I was in Coffee Tree Roasters on Forbes Avenue getting my coffee when reports started coming in on people's phones about the shooter at Tree of Life. I immediately started weeping, as I had worked at Tree of Life as their student cantor in 2005-2007 and knew the community. I could picture the worshippers who were always there, the physical space, and it all was very real to me. Businesses on Forbes Avenue then went on lock-down, and I spent the next hour and a half in the basement of Coffee Tree Roasters with four baristas. As I continued to weep, they all were very nurturing to me - bringing me glasses of water, tissues, and rubbing my back. We were eventually released and I spent the next two days like many others - in shock, donating blood, attending the Memorial Service, and writing to my congregants at B'nai Abraham.

On Monday, October 29, the owner of Coffee Tree Roasters contacted me. The baristas were all very upset about 10/27, especially when they learned that one of the victims was Jerry Rabinowitz, a favorite customer. Would I come in and counsel them? "Of course I would," I said, thinking all the time how ironic it was that they wanted me to counsel them, when it was they who had counseled me two days earlier. Earlier on the 29th, I had bought a dozen roses which I intended to lay at the impromptu memorial. Just before I left to go to CTR, an idea occurred to me. Wouldn't it be better to share the roses? I grabbed stationery, ribbon, scissors, and the roses. After I let the baristas talk out their grief for a while, I asked them if they would like to write a note to the person/people they had lost. They loved the idea, so we wrote our notes, sealed them, and tied them with ribbons onto beautiful yellow roses. We then all walked together to the impromptu memorial and laid our roses at the memorial wooden Jewish stars with the names of the victims. The baristas told me later that this small ritual helped them through this horrendous time, and I know that it helped me.

Painting

Ashley LaRocque

Ashley LaRocque

The story of the shooting made its way 45 minutes east of Pittsburgh in less than a day, and that’s where it found me. My name is Ashley LaRocque. I am 14 years old and I am one of the artists whose artwork is featured in the HeartsTogether public art campaign at the Tree of Life synagogue building. As soon as I heard the news, it crushed me. I am not a person of faith, but I felt so upset about what had happened. Art is my passion and I made my painting before I even knew about HeartsTogether. I felt like we need God, or whoever is watching us from above, to hold his/her hands around Pittsburgh. To this day, I still pray for the friends and families affected by this event. Hopefully, through my art, I have helped people cope with the loss of the eleven great people who were merely worshipping according to their faith.

[You can still see Ashley's artwork, along with that of another one hundred student artists, on the windscreens covering the synagogue building's perimeter fence along Wilkins Ave. You can see all 224 artistic entries submitted to HeartsTogether in our online picture gallery: www.treeoflifepgh.org/heartstogether. -ed.]

ViolinisT, "Schindler's list"

Devin Arrington

PRINT newspaper

As a professional violinist living in Pittsburgh, I could not stand idly by when I knew there was a piece of music I have long adored (and performed) that would be a fitting offering to the grieving members and friends of the congregations from the Tree of Life synagogue building. One Sunday I quietly unpacked my violin while facing the wall of the Tree of Life building and performed the theme from "Schindler's List." I saw so many bouquets of flowers while standing there ... this musical offering was my "bouquet of flowers." Several people came up to me afterwards and we had some lovely conversations. I returned the following Sunday and played the same piece, once more.

[The photo accompanied an article that appeared in Pittsburgh's PRINT East End newspaper. -ed.]

"Songstrong" Bracelet

Dawn O'Brien

 

My son Connor is a student at Duquesne University. While visiting him in Pittsburgh, we also paid our condolences and prayed at the Tree of Life synagogue building. On January 31, 2018, Ethan Song, son of our friends, Kristin and Michael Song, fatally shot himself while at a friend's house with an unsecured gun. He was only 15. His family's life was changed forever and so was our small community of Guilford, CT. His family has raised over $100,000 and have donated so much to many causes in his memory. They got "Ethan's Law" passed in Connecticut and hope to do so nationally. This law will hold gun owners responsible if a weapon is not secured properly and someone accesses it. Ethan was extremely interested in his family's history. He tried to learn everything he could about his grandmother's experience as a Holocaust survivor. Ethan was given her star. I hung a white rubber "strongsong" bracelet, with his name and date of his loss in red, on the synagogue railing. We continue to pray for all those affected by gun violence. Please go to the website to learn more about the Songstrong Foundation and/or donate: https://www.songstrong.org.

homemade girl scout Cookies

Stephen Grenesko

Stephen Grenesko

Stephen Grenesko

My daughter Haley and her Girl Scout troop #54442, under the direction of Scout Leader Laurie Cybulski, wanted to reach out in some small way. They decided to bake cookies for the police, firefighters and other first responder personnel. The girls gathered at Scout Leader Cybulski's house and baked several dozen cookies. We delivered some of them to the police and fire station on Northumberland Street. We also dropped some off at the Operation Center across the street from the synagogue. The girls felt helpless and wanted in someway to let the people of the affected congregations and the emergency workers know that someone cared about them. I am very proud of these young ladies.

Stephen Grenesko

Camp Chairs & Random acts of kindness

Tommy Maher

Maher

MaherHonor Network members pray with Rabbi Perlman's wife, Beth Kissileff. Maher

Members of "The Honor Network" traveled to Squirrel Hill to perform Random Acts of Kindness in honor of the 11 lives lost. We went to the Bagel Factory and a couple of other local restaurants and gave cashiers cash ($300) and little cards with the victims' names and pictures on them and asked the cashiers to use the money to cover the orders of the next customers in line, giving each one a card, until the money and cards ran out.

When we visit communities, we just follow Gods guidance as to what to do. The trips and the Random Acts are not planned, and we allow the plan to unfold as we go. At the Tree of Life memorial site, we spoke with some members of the congregations , including Rabbi Perlman's wife, Beth. We asked her, "If there were something you needed here, what would it be?" She said it would be nice if there were chairs so people could rest and reflect. We also talked with passers by about sitting shiva and wanting people to feel welcome to sit if they felt tired. So we went to the local Target and bought the camp chairs and taped cards with the victims' names and photos to them and set them up at the sidewalk memorial. We intentionally use the words "in honor" of the victims and not "in memory," because we are all about actively doing something, honoring the victims in a way that impacts others and hopefully inspires them to act, not just remember the victims.

[Rabbi Jonathan Perlman is the spiritual leader of New Light Congregation, and is himself a survivor of the assault on the synagogue building on 10.27.18. In the bottom picture, Honor Network representatives pray with Rabbi Perlman's wife, Beth. -ed.]

[Tommy Maher founded "The Honor Network" after the October 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. He is a retired firefighter and currently a Fire Commissioner in Long Island, NY. He lost a friend on 9/11 and worked recovery at Ground Zero.  Honor Network volunteers visit the hometowns of mass shooting victims - not to seek out their families, but rather to perform random acts of kindness in their names and leave tangible objects behind. For more information or to donate, visit https://thehonornetwork.com/  -ed.]

Glass & porcelain Flowers

Roy Penner

Among the most noticeable and early items to appear in the makeshift memorial were 11 tall glass and porcelain flowers on copper stems with copper leaves. Each flower consists of a large glass or porcelain dinner plate with incrementally smaller dishes, bowls, and glasses affixed to it. The flowers appeared Monday morning, just 48 hours after the shooting, planted in the garden at the corner of the synagogue's property, behind a low hedge. Visitors marveled at their beauty and the most common observation was, “Were these already here? They look so perfect here, they must have already been part of the garden.” But the fact that there were 11 of them attested otherwise.

Roy Penner is a local architect and artist living two blocks away from the Tree of Life synagogue building. Ten months before the shooting, he lost his wife, Barbara Cohen Penner, after 41 years together. Heartbroken, he created the first copper-stemmed glass and porcelain flower as her temporary grave marker. He made more flowers, with the intention of giving them to Barb’s family and friends for their gardens, to remind them of her. On a whim he quickened the pace of flower production in his basement studio and created a first art installation at Burning Man 2018, called "REBLOOMING - An expression of Love, Grief and the Randomness in the Order of Life.” He had only recently returned from Burning Man with some 80 flowers, not yet unpacked, when the attack on the synagogue building occurred. He selected 11 flowers, looking for blue and white colors or six pointed geometry relating to the Star of David and planted them at the developing memorial site.

The flowers looked so natural in the space, and people became so attached to them, that when the memorial was deconstructed two and half weeks after the attack, it was decided to leave them in the garden. Over time, the adhesive holding the dishes together on some of the flowers failed, dropping plates and bowls into the hedge. Concerned congregants and neighbors contacted the synagogue to anxiously report the problem. A Tree of Life representative emailed Mr. Penner, asking for instructions for repairing the damage. “We understand these flowers did not come with a lifetime guarantee,” she wrote. Roy's response was immediate: “They DO have a lifetime warranty; I will repair the original flowers and make sure you always have eleven complete flowers for this or any memorial here.” Eventually Roy was able to bolt the plates together and onto their copper stems and the full complement of bolted flowers was installed behind the hedge in time for the second commemoration of the shooting. Come springtime, Roy will also deliver another 11 flowers, one for each victim, to their families for their gardens. Whatever the final design of the rebuilt synagogue building and surrounding landscaping, an important feature will surely be 11 glass and porcelain flowers on copper stems, bringing comfort and beauty to the site and its visitors.

[This account is based upon several conversations between Mr. Penner and the editor. -ed.]

Tiny Bottles with Flowers & Stones

Julie Wallace

Julie Wallace

Julie Wallace

Julie Wallace

My name is Julie Wallace and I am a member of Kent United Church of Christ in Kent, Ohio. My husband Jimmy and I delivered to the Tree of Life sidewalk memorial 11 little bottles, each containing a blue flower that had been on the altar at our church’s November 4, 2018 service and a small rock. The rocks served as weights but also as a symbolic gesture, since we are aware of the Jewish mourning custom of leaving small stones at a grave site. That the bottles were retrieved and saved is just one example of how connected we all are to one another.

Our son, Justin, lives in Pittsburgh, where he is the assistant organist at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Justin attended the Squirrel Hill gatherings/protests in the days after the shooting and took pictures of the people and the signs. We shared these with our pastor, Rev. Amy Gopp, who displayed them at the beginning of the November 4th service. In her sermon, Pastor Amy used the scripture reading to connect our unity with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Because we had already planned to attend the All Saints musical service at Shadyside that afternoon, when we learned there would be flowers on the altar to honor the 11 victims, we offered to deliver them. The bottles were a way of preserving the flowers and sending a message of love and support. Justin and two of his friends accompanied us to Tree of Life to deliver the flowers, one bottle at each victim's marker. I learned then that one of the friends, Eric, worked with Rose Mallinger’s son, and had sat shiva with them. I have learned over the past several years that Pittsburgh is more like a small town than a big city. It seems like everyone is acquainted.

Honestly, I figured that our little bottles of flowers had gotten swept up and thrown away, so when I received an email from Tree of Life inquiring as to the backstory, I broke down in tears. Because we spend so much time in Pittsburgh, because of our son’s love of Squirrel Hill, because of how many people knew the fallen, this tragedy hit home.  We continue to mourn with you the sickness of hatred and ignorance that caused this atrocious act. But love and enlightened minds will always triumph over evil. Peace.

Metal Angel sculpture

Lei Hennessy-Owen

Lei Hennessy-Owen is a Somerset, PA. metal artist, whose metal angels of varying sizes grace memorial sites around the country: Ground Zero, the Pentagon, the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, and other sites of tragedy. As soon as she heard about the shooting in Pittsburgh, she immediately called her close Johnstown friend, Bob Horowitz, who had gone to Pitt. He told her they needed to get an angel to the Tree of Life site. She went with him to services at a synagogue in Johnstown that Sunday; on Monday, Bob drove her and the angel to Squirrel Hill. The Johnstown rabbi had predicted they would not get through the police barricade, but Lei had contacts with the Pittsburgh Police. She makes ceramic paw prints and sells them at art fairs to raise for police K9 teams, so she reached out to the Zone Four police station, a block and a half from the synagogue building. Police officers met her at Tree of Life that Monday and helped her install the heavy angel near the garden on the corner. The angel at Tree of Life has a lantern in her outstretched hand, which is unusual. Many of Lei’s angels hold wreaths or feature an outstretch arm and open hand, in which recipients put their own objects. The synagogue lantern symbolizes light and hope projected out into the world. She wanted a Jewish star but could not make one quickly enough or find a lantern with a Jewish star already on it. She then presented a smaller angel to the police station, where there was a little reception. The station was already overflowing with food neighbors had brought in gratitude for the first responders’ swift and heroic response to the synagogue attack.

Lei shares a second story of a coincidence at an arts fair in Maryland, where she was selling her ceramic paw prints. Two couples, one older than the other, came over to her booth and Lei noticed that the older woman immediately began collecting up all the blue paw prints. Lei asked her if her family was US Air Force or Navy, by any chance. The woman explained that her son was on the SWAT team that stormed the Tree of Life building on October 27, 2018, and she wanted paw prints for him and for all the members of the SWAT team, which included the injured officers.

 

[This account is based upon several conversations between Ms. Hennessy-Owen and the editor. You can learn more about Lei’s metal angels at https://www.deliveringangels.com/   -ed.]

 

"Response to Trauma" PAckets

Richard C. Yeomans

Richard C. Yeomans

The tragic shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue really hit home for me, as I had attended a four day intensive training last year in Los Angeles at a Jewish school, with 25 students from the Jewish community. As I prayed for the victims and their families, God impressed upon me that I should go to Pittsburgh and offer prayer and support. I knew from previous shooting-related deployments that this tragedy would have affected both the community as a whole and the first responders who witnessed and confronted the horror of the event. I boarded a plane and headed east to Pittsburgh. Thirty years ago, as a youth pastor at Ocean Hills Community Church, I accompanied our high school youth group on a mission's trip to Pittsburgh to serve homeless shelters, elderly shut-ins, and to do children's ministry. Here I was again, 30 years later, coming to offer comfort, prayer and support to a grief stricken community.

My many years as a law enforcement Chaplain had prepared me to understand the unique stressors of first responders who experience such intense, life threatening calls. My first priority was to check in with both police and firemen at the Zone Four station, which was located just up the road from the shooting scene. I was welcomed with hand­ shakes and thank you's. I was fortunate to share a meal with the firemen and listened intently as they talked through the incident. Each day I stopped by the police precinct and visited with officers ,hearing their accounts of the incident. The most impactful part of my trip was spending many hours each day at the memorial site, located directly in front of the synagogue building. As at all such events, caring people had erected a make-shift memorial with signs, flowers, meaningful mementos, teddy bears, and candles. It is very emotionally touching to just stand by and take it all in. One elderly Jewish woman shared with me about her many years as a member of the Tree of Life congregation and how she knew each of the victims intimately. That fateful morning, she was attending a baby naming ceremony at another synagogue; normally, she would have been at the morning service at Tree of Life. Her story deeply touched me. I heard many similar stories from countless visitors to the memorial site and I was blessed to pray with many grief stricken individuals.

[Richard C. Yeomans founded Emergency Ministry Services to help people in the wake of a disaster. He has decades of crisis response experience as a senior chaplain in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and member of a Red Cross Critical Response Team. He and his teams bring relief and the hope of God to seemingly hopeless situations. Rick brought a tall stack of "Response to Trauma" packets with medical and spiritual guidance for people experiencing trauma and left them in the sidewalk memorial. When the memorial was deconstructed after two and a half weeks, there was only one packet remaining. This account of his visit is taken from an article he wrote in the Emergency Ministry Services Responder Newsletter. -ed.]

#Shareaheartpgh

Barb Grossman

When worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue building were attacked in a senseless act of hatred, the family of Barb and Randy Grossman started the Pgh HandMade Hearts campaign. The purpose was to make and place handmade hearts in public places as vivid reminders of the power of kindness. Barb writes, "We were deeply affected with the tragedy and we realize that love is greater than hate. We come from a family deeply rooted in their convictions and are a family of makers as well."

Barb now organizes an annual Creative Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, which provides materials for attendees to make hearts to tag and distribute throughout the region. She reports,"The festival has been tremendously supportive and we have had hundreds of people participate in the project. We have used the festival as a platform to make various hand made hearts that are knitted, crocheted, sewn, needle felted, wet felted, quilted, stitched, and painted. Participants' ages range from 5-95. We are also pleased to have witnessed a ripple effect with the heart making." Other cities such as Morgantown, W.VA; El Paso, TX; and Carlisle, PA. have picked up the HandMade Hearts initiative for their regions.

Since the Tree of Life shooting, we have made and placed over 5500 handmade hearts in public places. We have engaged many organizations, schools, community centers, guilds and individuals in this kindness campaign. Our goal is to continue to spread kindness and share the hearts to any area affected by tragedies.
Our mission is to foster compassion for those impacted by acts of violence and hatred, as well as to discourage future acts of this nature. Let’s #ShareAHeartPgh, with #PghHandMadeHearts.


 

clear Blue stones

Ellen Sikov

Ellen Sikov

We left some shiny, clear blue stones at the memorial. These were the stones that we used as part of the centerpieces at our son Tyler's bar mitzvah. We also placed these same stones on the grave of our beloved father, grandfather and past Tree of Life President Seymour Sikov.  Tree of Life has been an integral part of our family.  We were married there, celebrated many family and friend simchas (joyful occasions) there, including our son Zachary’s bar mitzvah, along with holidays and confirmations.  We miss our friends that were taken on October 27th and will never forget the light that they brought into our lives.  The 11 shiny, clear blue stones that we placed at the memorial sparkled in the light even during the darkness.  

Hearts of Hope

Diane Sarna

Diane Sarna

After the news of the terrible mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, I immediately reached out via email, asking if I might deliver our hand-painted “Hearts of Hope” hearts, with their messages of hope and love.


In the early hours of February 21, 2019, under snow-storm conditions, we loaded up about 300 ceramic, hand-painted hearts complete with personal messages for the families, students, first responders, and community members in Pittsburgh. We sometimes receive hearts from others with the request to distribute them, like the hand-sewn hearts from a woman in England, who lost her child to the mass shooting at the concert in Las Vegas. Her fabric hearts were given to victims' families and to survivors in Las Vegas, but some were brought to Pittsburgh. We made sure those hearts, which had traveled so far, were given to victims' family members and to congregants, along with the story of their journey.


Our trip was long and emotional. As I drove from Newtown, CT. to Pittsburgh, my grief for my own community resurfaced. I remembered the difficult day when I gratefully found a heart, hanging from a tree branch outside our library. The little card inside said it was painted by a six-year old boy from New Jersey. The heart was just thick swirls of brown mixed with red and green, but it hangs in my foyer to this day.

 

I started painting hearts for the therapeutic value and the sense of community. I have been honored to make deliveries of these hearts to local first responders and hospitals, and as far away as Parkland, FL. Each delivery is an emotional journey of love. The “Hearts of Hope” website describes their supporters as "those who have been there," and who now reach out to others who have experienced tragedy, trauma and loss. I like to think that my grief has been turned into compassion for others.
 

Upon arrival at Tree of Life synagogue building, we distributed hearts to leaders from the three congregations that had been sharing the building, all of whom lost members in the shooting. It did not feel awkward as we hugged and exchanged names. We then walked with them to see the makeshift memorial constructed behind a bank of glass doors, visible from outside. I was struck by the familiarity of the items- all too similar to those delivered with love to my community not so long ago- hearts of all sizes and materials, handmade signs and artwork of all sorts honoring the memory of those lost. Their loss was still so new that I had trouble making eye contact with these temple leaders, who were also choking back tears.


We made other stops- a local elementary school, the police station just blocks away and the JCC. Uniformed, senior police officers broke down when I offered them hearts from Newtown and shared that we had made the long drive that snowy morning. Leaders at the JCC sat with us and gifted us shirts with the slogan "Pittsburgh: Stronger than Hate." I made it back to Newtown at 2:30am. It had been an exhausting journey, but one I felt so compelled to make.

[Diane later shared more of her own personal story of loss in an email with the editor. Newtown, CT. was the site of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in which a teenage gunman murdered 20 children, ages six and seven, and six teachers and staff members on December 14, 2012. –ed.]


It seems like everyone in Newtown grieves for someone. My friend and colleague from the camp where I worked every summer lost her six-year old son, our camp's littlest camper - and we all suffered. My youngest daughter was his babysitter for four years, as well as his camp counselor. His death was devastating for her.

We all grapple with how we recover from such a loss. My daughter and I are active in political/social action campaigns to prevent gun violence and promote gun safety through legislation and education. As a teacher, a mother, and a Newtown resident, “Hearts of Hope” was one of the community service organizations that I gravitated towards, to feel like I was giving back. “Hearts of Hope chooses a different organization or cause to paint for each month, but when tragedy strikes, we turn our efforts to send our love and support to the new cohort of grieving relatives, friends and community members.

When similar tragedies occur, I can't help but relive that intense sorrow. Then I ask myself how I might help. It is how I move forward. This [Stories] project you are undertaking is an important one. It is good that you are documenting the great kindness that comes from such tragedy. Signs appeared in every storefront only days after 12/14/12 that read, "We Are Newtown. We Choose Love." So that is what we do.

 

[Hearts of Hope is “the longest running and largest healing art program in the nation and has responded to national and international tragedies since 9/11, as well as to hospitals, grief centers, cancer centers and the military worldwide." Learn more at https://www.ourheartsofhope.org/  -ed.]

Stars of Hope

Gabriel Dwek

Kveller

Stars of HOPE

Ellen Sikov

Brian Cohen

Bleeding Black and Gold: A Teenager Brings Hope to Pittsburgh.

Although I have never lived in Pittsburgh,] for as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of all things Pittsburgh – the city, the community and the teams. My birthday cakes were always Steelers themed and I attend games annually, heading from New York towards exit 70-A, downtown, to walk with Steelers Nation across the Pittsburgh bridges, I even have close friends who are my Pittsburgh Saba and Savta. My Bar Mitzvah was at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, barely a mile away from Tree of Life. My celebration continued at PNC Park (Pirates), at then-Consol Energy (Penguins), and finally, for Sunday brunch, we viewed the Steelers game from Heinz Field, and met former defensive end Brett Keisel in the locker room. This same kind and generous man was a pall-bearer at the funeral for a victim of the Tree of Life shooting

We quickly painted some Stars of HOPE on that heavy, black Saturday, to bring to Pittsburgh. These simple wooden stars include messages meant to bring hope to those who need it most. The Stars of HOPE organization lets people help in a hands-on way, to encourage and heal others undergoing a tragedy. The stars create a physical connection to other people, hung publicly so that even the saddest of people can see in front of them a life after the tragedy. They can see the living prayers of others who care about them, who will never forget about them, and will never abandon them.

Of course we went to the football game that Sunday, where there was a moment of silence that left many in tears. Then we went to the vigil, where the rain poured down like tears, and finally we took the short trip to the synagogue where the massacre had occurred. Once we saw that we could not go any further than the police barricades, I decided to hang our Stars of HOPE there. For me, the act of tying those Stars was both intensely personal and totally universal. I wanted to give back hope to the city and people that had given me so much, and I wanted to let people with whom I so closely identify know that their pain is shared and that the future can be rebuilt. I went because I couldn’t stay away. I left the stars as a piece of myself, helping rebuild the city, and trying to pull our world back from sorrow. On the way home, I was still feeling the shock and the fear, but somehow I was also feeling that I had made the world smile just a little bit.

[This account is taken from an essay published shortly after the shooting by Gabriel Dweck, then a junior at Byram Hills High School, Westchester County, New York. For the entire essay, visit http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/bleeding-black-and-gold-a-teenager-brings-hope-to-pittsburgh/]

[Click on the arrow in the first image for a brief video of Stars of HOPE founder Jeff Parness speaking in Squirrel Hill about the special significance for him of bringing stars to Pittsburgh. For more on the Stars of HOPE organization or to donate, visit https://starsofhopeusa.org/]

[Additional stars of HOPE delivered and hung in Pittsburgh came from Rodeph Sholom, in Manhattan; the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy in Stamford, CT; and from survivor communities who had themselves received stars in the aftermath of prior shootings, including survivors of the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino and the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, as well as a special needs adult program in Georgia in memory of Cecil and David Rosenthal. –ed.]

Violinist

Monique Mead

 

Music is my way of being able to grieve. Everyone was bringing something - a bouquet, a stone, a candle - this was my bouquet. I thought deeply about what I would play. Every song is crying; there is grief, hope, prayer and tears in this music. I feel when it is appropriate to play, and when it is appropriate to stop and be silent and to feel what the people are feeling.

Six months later, in April 2019, I performed at Beth Shalom synagogue for a private gathering for the families of the victims, where I performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto as part of my “Beethoven in the Face of Adversity” initiative. They invited me and my children (Tino and Isabel on piano and harp) back to perform for them and their families on the eve of the first anniversary of the shooting (October 26, 2019). The Massenet “Meditation“ was the piece that was most meaningful to them and I played that along with “Eli Eli,” a Jewish song of mourning, and “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler at the Roof. I then went and performed the same pieces outside the Tree of Life building the next day, just to make the connection.

 

[Click the play arrow in the top image for a short video that documents Professor Mead's sidewalk performance https://vimeo.com/299522888 -ed.]

 

Luggage Tags

Laura McCullough

Laura McCullough

Among the gifts left for you at the corner of Wilkins and Shady Avenues were luggage tags with a photograph of one hand helping another up, clasped in friendship. My friend John, a native of Pittsburgh, was visiting family there and had the tags on his own luggage. He was moved to leave the luggage tags at the site of the synagogue massacre because of who and what they represent: my civic-minded son, Devon Grimme’, and the loving influence he had with many people.

My brilliant, kind and loving son was a “good Catholic boy.” Valedictorian of his high school class of over 500 people, he also won the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award from his school. This prestigious award is given by the principal in recognition of a student “who has made a conscious decision to better the lives of other individuals or groups both inside and outside of school activities.”

Devon fulfilled the qualifications for this award by becoming involved with Anytown, a local organization that promotes inclusivity, leadership, non-prejudice and non-violence. Devon attended a week-long Anytown camp the summer before his ninth grade year, and became a junior counselor for the next three years. He was passionate about the values of Anytown, so much so that he changed his major to reflect his commitment to the teachings of Anytown.

Tragically, Devon died by drowning in 2015 at the age of 27. I received messages from people all over the world who Devon had influenced. One of them was from a young woman who wrote, “Devon was my counselor at the yearly Anytown summer camp. No one in my family has ever graduated from high school; I didn’t expect to, either. Because of Devon’s constant encouragement, I graduate from Brown University this year. I wanted you to know that."

After Devon’s death, I started offering luggage tags in his memory. Devon was a world traveler and I want his love of life and adventure, only fun if shared, to continue. All proceeds of the luggage tags go to Anytown. The values of Anytown are needed more than ever in this world; the violence and prejudice must stop. May those who died in the horrific attack on your synagogue rest in peace along with my son. My heart is with you, I grieve with you.

[Learn more about Devon and Anytown at www.livelikeDevon.com -ed.]

poster: The day god wept

Jarrod Edson

The inspiration I had for this drawing was that the eye represents God and he is weeping for those people who died at the Tree of Life synagogue. Each tear has a symbol in it which represents many religions, so he is also weeping for all of humanity and how it fights and kills in his name. The hearts flying up in the air represent the people who tragically died. They are above his tears and are going to heaven with him. It's sad what happened, and I wanted to make this drawing to represent how I feel about this tragedy.

Sun, January 17 2021 4 Shevat 5781