Last week, marked the 5th anniversary of the tragic Tree of Life shooting, a day that is remembered forever in the hearts of Pittsburghers. Eleven lives were lost, representing the most significant antisemitic attack in American history.
In commemoration, the community held a memorial service in Schenley Park. The atmosphere was tender and connected to a profound sense of support and togetherness. Children from diverse schools welcomed us with their heartfelt artwork created in their classrooms. Friends recognized us, and we recognized others, greeting each other with hugs or nods of acknowledgment.
While we entered the event with a subtle awareness of safety measures, we felt reassured by the presence of vigilant security personnel. Their watchful eyes, focused on the crowd and the trees around us, provided protection and calm, allowing us to focus on the ceremony.
The service was a moving tribute. Family members lit candles to remember those lost, and first responders were applauded and thanked. Local politicians offered prayers, and we heard of the vital work of the 10/27 Healing Partnership, sharing their work on creating goodness from this tragedy. The Violins of Hope, played by teens and adults, resonated with beautiful melodies, making a sense of peace and calm.
Eric Olshan, the Federal Attorney who prosecuted the monster responsible for this painful episode, spoke about the recent trial and the closure it brought. He emphasized that while the conviction couldn’t erase the pain, it could serve as a transition point for many affected by the tragedy.
I didn’t hear about the shooting five years ago until my brothers called me to ask if I was okay. I am not affiliated with Tree of Life, but I have several friends who were a part of that community. After 10/27/18, however, we are all a part of the Tree of Life community. On Friday, tears were shed, embraces were shared, and amidst the attendees, there was, first and foremost, a precise determination to honor the victims and then look to how we shape a better world.
This commitment to remembrance and the drive to use this tragedy as a catalyst for positive change truly exemplifies the essence of ‘tikkun olam’ in Jewish tradition—meaning “heal the world.”
To honor and remember the lives lost, I want to acknowledge them by name:
In the face of adversity, the resilience shown by the Pittsburgh community in turning grief into a force for positive action serves as the kind of bounce back and forward that is found throughout Pittsburgh and across our nation.
© Richard Citrin 2023