Uri Topolosky
Community Builder and Spiritual Leader

A street corner in Squirrel Hill

I stood at a single street corner in Squirrel Hill for hours on Monday, as a whole world folded into that little space – peoples of all religions, races, and ages. I watched a makeshift memorial of balloons, cards, stones, candles, and flowers, blossom at that corner, in the shade of the Tree of Life.

I met there a Baptist Pastor who drove, as I did, from another state, just to stand at that corner too.

I listened to Cindy recite the memorial prayer, as she bent down to light a yartzheit candle on the sidewalk. All of her children had their Bnei Mitzvah inside the synagogue, a place she wondered if she could ever walk into again.

A woman named Sandy burst into tears, describing to no one in particular, how her blind father was guided each Shabbat in synagogue by Rose Mallinger, the oldest victim at 97 years.

I observed a grandmother, bent down next to her five-year-old grandson, trying to softly explain why there was a mound of flowers on this street corner.

I circled up with a group of Squirrel Hill Jewish residents, as we sang a prayer for peace, and offered a healing Misheberach for their friends, Dan and Andrea, and the policemen, who were badly injured in the attack. When the songs ended, we held each other in silence, gripping even tighter.

I noticed a man slip behind the police tape and plant one of eleven, tall, majestic, glass flowers, in front of the bushes just off the street corner.

I felt the pain of a woman, who asked if Jewish law would demand that a mother be buried quickly, even if her child was still in the hospital with wounds from the same spray of bullets that took her life.

I watched Rabbi Myers carry out the Torah from the synagogue, surrounded by FBI officers. His eyes stared straight forward, and his body was clenched protectively around the Torah. I wondered: “It is a Tree of Life for all those who grasp it…”

I joined a large group of Yeshiva girls, and then Yeshiva boys, in the recitation of Tehillim, and in an emotional Mincha service.

I welcomed the mayor’s strong words of condemnation, and his soft words of care, when he arrived to offer his condolences to the random crowd gathered on that corner.

I smiled listening to Haley compare her street in the neighborhood to a mini-Kibbutz, with children running in and out of each other’s homes, in the embrace of a loving community.

I met Judah, an elderly congregant of Tree of Life, who showed up four minutes late to shul on Shabbat, arriving during the gun battle between police and the shooter. His decision to make friendly small-talk on the way to shul, probably saved his life.

I was uplifted by the powerful sound of the bagpipe Tim played to Amazing Grace, after he asked me if I thought it would be appropriate for him to offer such a tribute to the victims.

I spoke with Rosie, who had just moved to Pittsburgh for her husband’s medical residency, and had come to that street corner, because she didn’t know where else to go that morning.

I even saw a therapy dog get lifted into shaking arms by a group of teary-eyed mourners, as pained faces twisted into heartbroken smiles.

Standing against hate, was a simple street corner filled with tears, prayers, song, and love, made up of the best of humanity. Rabbi Avi Weiss, who I was blessed to travel with to Pittsburgh, captured the scene unfolding all day on that little corner when he said, “just as hate knows no bounds, so too, love knows no bounds.”

May the families and friends of the victims know comfort, and may we all know again the peace of Shabbat.

Posted by Rabbi Uri Topolosky on Monday, 29 October 2018

About the Author
Uri Topolosky is the Rabbi of the Kehilat Pardes - The Rock Creek Synagogue in Rockville, MD. He also serves as the Rav HaKehillah of the Berman Hebrew Academy, the chair of the Beltway Vaad, and the President of the Washington Board of Rabbis. He was formerly the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, where he helped revitalize a community shattered by Hurricane Katrina. Uri received his rabbinic ordination at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and was a member of the second graduating class in 2005.
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