Healing, Resiliency, and Learning: Tree of Life Pittsburgh

The author blows a shofar on a rooftop.  Photo used with permission.
The author blows a shofar on a rooftop in New York City, calling out to all. Photo used with permission.

All who are yearning, let them come.

All who feel disconcerted, let them come and harmonize.

All who are in need of healing, let us help you begin.

I have been reading quite a few articles recently of the op-ed variety in which the author discusses a connection with the synagogue shooting, with Pittsburgh, with wounded Judaism, with Pennsylvania, with Tree of Life Congregation itself, and especially with our building now that it is under construction.

Maybe the author attended happy occasions at the Tree of Life.  Maybe their families were members.  Maybe they lived nearby.  Maybe they drove past the building on the school bus and watched the building take shape day by day when they were young.

These op-eds sometimes are tentative, seeking the positive while probably inadvertently emphasizing the negative.  And I just want to open my arms and hug the writers.  I want to call out to them:  We are here, talk with us!

We are still reaching out to a few members of our immediate community to bring them back into the fold, but that is all the more reason for everyone to join in, no matter how far removed.

Come and visit for a religious service!  We are not yet back in our building, of course, but we are in another congregation’s building, and we have layers of security in effect.  See our congregation’s website for what we are doing, how we are thriving as a community.  Maybe you will want to join and help rebuild.

Come visit Pittsburgh!  The 10.27 Healing Partnership is here and offers support of various kinds.  October 27, 2018, was the day of the shooting, hence “10.27.”

Yes, as the news is reporting now, we have begun tearing down a goodly portion of the Tree of Life building, though references to the percentage of the footprint versus the percentage of the square footage of interior space seem hollow.  Our corner building with its renowned stained glass windows will remain.  The new nonprofit Tree of Life Inc. is in charge of rebuilding and the associated fundraising, and we look forward to the re-envisioned home.

We all understand your hesitancy, your tentative stabs at comprehending your own feelings, much less ours.  We do not take antisemitism lightly, and we continue to work toward the greater common good.

There are documentaries which have been made, which groups of us continue to promote and show in coordinated efforts to get the word out about exactly what happened and how we are dealing with it.

The documentary A Tree of Life:  The Story of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, by acclaimed filmmaker Trish Adlesic, follows survivors of the horror, and discusses where we are now, in sort of a 360-degree view.  The film is streaming on MAX (formerly HBO MAX), and also is available for showing for a group by appointment.

And Repairing the World:  Stories from the Tree of Life, part of the noted Not In Our Town series by filmmaker Patrice O’Neill, documents the community response to the shooting.  It is on PBS (Public Television), and also may be shown for a group in a public setting.

Both films have also been produced in shorter versions for showing to classroom students.  And many of us involved with the films are glad – and humbly honored – to speak along with film showings, either in person or by remote connection, with high schools, colleges, and many others.

After the shooting, then Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto created a sort of a playbook for other mayors who may have to deal with this sort of attack.  That is the kind of city Pittsburgh is.  We care about people – each other, and others as well.

Additionally, Pittsburghers created the annual Eradicate Hate Global Summit which brings together persons from around the world who know about hate from many perspectives.  We have met folks from the mosque horror in Christchurch, from political attack in Norway, from Mother Emanuel in Charleston, from Parkland’s school shooting, and so many more from so many places.  Moreover, we have met experts from around the world who now are working together on the various aspects of hate – curtailing it, eliminating it, responding to it, and so forth.  The Summit takes place in October.

As for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, whose name we absolutely do not mention (as he enjoys that and takes pride and credit for it), he is on death row in Terre Haute, currently in the process of appealing his case as it was expected he would do.  His conditions there are much more harsh and more separated from communication of his hate to others (though not totally limited) than they would have been had he received life in prison.  Whether or not he is ever put to death, he is as separated from society as he can be under our current system of justice.

As an aside, please let me mention this:  the purpose of the death sentence is not punishment, it is separation.  It is meant to cut off the person’s influence on others, going back even to Biblical days.  It should not be called a “death penalty,” because that implies retribution.  It is a sentence prescribed by law for those who have proven themselves irredeemable, too dangerous, etc.

I know it takes a while for the waves of healing to reach the concentric spheres of those affected.  I was there, and my course seemed clear to me almost immediately; perhaps I am luckier than many.  Reflecting our congregation’s 160-year history (this year’s anniversary), we have the notion of coming back better, as good as before and with an added purpose.  It is important to us – to the broader global community to which we belong.

What am I saying?  We are reaching out to you, to the writers of op-eds and to others who feel an attraction.  Connect with us!  Don’t just write about us, talk with us!  We are still here – not the eleven taken from us, but the living community that they helped nurture.

You who are motivated by the Tree of Life and our history and our horror and our resiliency and our building and whatever else, come!  Heal with us, as many have done, as many continue to honor us.  Join us.  We are here.

About the Author
Author of POCKETS: The Problem with Society Is in Women's Clothing (www.AudreyGlickman.com), Audrey N. Glickman has experience as a rabbi’s assistant, in nonprofits, government, advertising, and as a legal secretary. A native Pittsburgher, Audrey has served on many boards, organizations, and committees, advocating for many causes, including equal rights, civil rights, secure recountable voting, preserving the earth, good government, improving institutions, and understanding and tending to our fellow human beings.
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