On Oct. 27, 2018, a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha building in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 worshipers. For the one-year commemoration of the shooting on Sunday at 5 p.m., EST, the Pittsburgh community will join in a public memorial service to remember those who were lost.
For those who cannot be in Pittsburgh, The Jewish Federations of North America are providing everyone the opportunity to mourn in support with the Pause with Pittsburgh digital movement. Participants across the nation can sign up to receive a text message at the same time as the memorial that will contain a video reading of the names of all 11 lives lost, along with a mourning prayer.
“Rather than become desensitized to the terror of a never-ending cycle of senseless deaths, we must focus on doing what we do best: building and sustaining community that brings people together,” said Mark Wilf, chair of the board of trustees of the JFNA.
Marty Haberer, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, said that this was an opportunity for Phoenix-area Jews to be connected with the larger Jewish community. He also said that these type of attacks have sadly not ended with Pittsburgh, referencing the Chabad of Poway shooting that took place six months after Tree of Life and the shooting in Halle, Germany, which happened on Yom Kippur.
“What we’re seeing is these random, senseless hate activities that lead to death,” Haberer said. “This is important to the Federation because I think the Jewish community wants to bring light into the world and not darkness.”
These violent acts weren’t only happening in synagogues, Haberer cautioned, but also at mosques and churches. He wanted to make sure that the Jewish community is always a good neighbor that stands with other communities in times of need.
He added that mass shootings similar to Pittsburgh have become all too common, but being a part of the Pause with Pittsburgh event allows the Federation to bring light into a dark time.
“This digital movement allows us to realize that we are stronger together in pausing for Pittsburgh and remembering what happened on that day one year later,” said Sheryl Press, the director of campaign and women’s philanthropy for the Federation. Press is in charge of marketing the Pause with Pittsburgh movement in the Phoenix area.
“Nothing can erase what happened one year ago, but we can choose to stand even stronger and strive even further to demonstrate our resilience and strength as a people,” said Eric D. Fingerhut, president and CEO of the JFNA. “Through the darkness of this tragedy, we have seen a wave of solidarity, and we are gratified that it has sparked a movement of renewed unity.”
Phoenix had multiple vigils to honor the Tree of Life victims after the shooting. The Federation worked with the Arizona Faith Network, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix to hold an interfaith vigil at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus.
Although he was not the JCRC’s executive director at the time, Paul Rockower said that the shooting was one of the reasons why he ended up accepting the position.
“The attack on the congregations at the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh was my catalyst to become directly involved, and helped lead me to the communal public diplomacy work of the JCRC,” Rockower said. “I was overwhelmed to learn that the interfaith vigil that the JCRC organized brought together over 1,200 people from the Jewish community, as well as other faith and ethnic communities — including over 70 clergy of various religious traditions, to stand together against such hate. By building a broad, strong, enduring coalition of allies and community partners, we will never face these vile threats alone.”
The president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, said that since the shooting, he has worked harder to assist those in need and to live by core Jewish values.
“Let us not let forget the terrible price that we as a society pay for the continued presence of hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism in our midst,” Yanklowitz said. “In all we do, let us recommit to promoting peace, tolerance and acceptance. Let us not let those who perished in this senseless shooting have died in vain. In their memory, for this year and the years to come, let us seek renewal through bridge-building, mutual understanding and boundless love.”
Rabbi Jeremy Schneider of Temple Kol Ami said that he was planning on reading a prayer dedicated to those who lost their lives. Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, who leads the New Light Congregation, one of the three congregations that survived the Pittsburgh shooting, created the prayer.
After the shooting, the Tree of Life building was closed for reconstruction, but will soon reopen as a center for Jewish life in the United States. The congregations are working to create a cooperative space that allows for Jewish worship, social engagement and education.
“We are poised to become an incredible center for Jewish life in the United States,” Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said. “When we reopen, and we most certainly will, I want the entire world to say, ‘Wow, look at what they have done.’ To do anything less disrespects the memory of our 11 martyrs.” JN
For more information on Pause with Pittsburgh, visit pausewithpittsburgh.com.