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October 27, 2019 10:34 pm

Two Elderly Survivors of Pittsburgh Tree of Life Attack Mark Anniversary of Deadly Shooting

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Oct. 31, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Cathal McNaughton.

Two elderly members of the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh are marking the first anniversary of the massacre that took the lives of 11 fellow worshipers, CNN reported on Sunday.

Joe Charny, a 91-year-old who escaped the shooting, had taken upon himself to recite the names of the deceased daily as part of the Kaddish ritual to memorialize the dead.

“It feels good to recite those names,” Charny said, “because I know I’m doing the right thing and I know that I’m doing something for me and for them at the same time.”

“You have to remember their lives meant something — they were the epitome of how we should be,” he said.

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Charny’s friend Judah Samet, 81, barely missed the shooting by arriving late. He said the incident brought back memories of his experience as a child during the Holocaust, when he was imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen.

“We used to walk hunting for food,” he said. When they encountered a dead body “you walked around him, out of respect, but eventually we were weakening. We stepped on them. You could hear their bones cracking.”

“By the age of seven, I had seen more death than life,” he recounted.

For him, the Tree of Life synagogue will be the same.

“I looked at that and I said, this looks like a tombstone,” he said of the synagogue. “There’s no holiness emanating from this building and the 11 bodies in it; it’s a cemetery.”

Nonetheless, Samet and Charny both want to return to Tree of Life once it has been repaired.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Charny said. “If you don’t, the other side wins.”

“I’m not gonna go away. We’re not going to go away,” he pledged.

Charny worries, however, that the massacre is indicative of a growing trend.

“It’s so open now,” he said of antisemitism. “There was a period there where I thought that things were calming down.”

“I should have known better. It shouldn’t have been such a big surprise,” he added.

There remains, of course, the question of what to do with the killer. Many have said the death penalty should be pursued, but Samet disagrees.

“I want to keep him alive and put him in the worst jail … where you’re by yourself in a small cell, 23 1/2 hours a day,” he said.

Both Samet and Charny remain determined to live life, however. Next month they will attend a fellow congregant’s 100th birthday.

“We’re all going to be there,” Charny said. “The very fact that we’re doing this and that we can celebrate an event like that is a victory for us.”

“We’ve come out of terrible difficulties and awful situations, but we can come and we can get together and we can live,” he said.

The attack, committed by a far-right antisemitic gunman, killed Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, and Rose Mallinger.

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