Amid Pandemic, Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting Survivors Prepare for Second Anniversary of Antisemitic Attack
As the second anniversary of the 2018 mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue approaches, those affected by the incident are finding different ways to cope with the painful memories of that day.
On October 27, 2018, an antisemitic, white supremacist gunman opened fire in the synagogue on Shabbat, killing 11 worshippers.
Members of the Or L’Simcha, New Light, and Dor Hadash congregations that used the synagogue, along with the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community, are now faced with the task of confronting and commemorating the trauma of the shooting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Maggie Feinstein, head of the support group “10.27 Healing Partnership,” believes all of those affected are strongly supporting each other, the Associated Press reported on Sunday.
“They started phone chains, thought about ways to reach their vulnerable population,” she said. “I found it incredibly inspiring that these three congregations, when crisis hit, knew how to pull together as a community and not leave anybody behind.”
Overseeing the commemorations is a planning committee that includes the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Community Center, along with members of the affected congregations, some of whom lost relatives in the shooting.
Among the tributes being planned are an online ceremony featuring master cellist Yo-Yo Ma and a day of community service that will involve charity work such as blood drives.
In addition, Pittsburgh area writers and other figures will be featured in a book of essays on the shooting and its victims. The co-editor, Beth Kissileff, is the wife of Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, who was present at the shooting but escaped unhurt.
The book, Bound in the Bond of Life, features an oral history of the shooting, contemplations of its meaning and implications, and even poetry by both Jewish and non-Jewish authors.
“I wanted to acknowledge this didn’t just affect the Jewish community,” Kissileff explained.
Rabbi Amy Bardack, who is on the planning committee, commented on the problems presented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying, “Once you can’t do everything in-person, there aren’t as many opportunities for healing. Last year we had chaplains, therapists helping people face-to-face. That can’t happen this year.”
As a result, most of the ceremonies will be virtual or adopt social-distancing measures.
However, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who heads the Tree of Life congregation, said his own use of social media platforms like Zoom and Facebook for religious services has proven spiritually fruitful.
“During the pandemic, people are seeking community,” Myers said. “We try in any way to help them find solace and hope and inspiration.”