Pitt community responds to synagogue shooting


Brian Gentry | Contributing Editor

Mourners placed flowers, notes and the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which lists each victim’s name outside Tree of Life Synagogue.

By Emily Drzymalski, For the Pitt News

The sounds of sirens and phone alerts informed Pitt students of the active shooter situation happening a few neighborhoods over in Squirrel Hill at the Tree of Life Synagogue Saturday morning. In the wake of Saturday’s shooting, Pitt students and organizations are taking action.

After the shooting that claimed the lives of 11 individuals, Pitt students and organizations are still coming to terms with the tragedy. For many Jewish organizations on campus, this means offering additional support to its members. The Chabad House on Campus and Pitt Hillel are two Jewish groups helping Pitt students and the surrounding communities cope.

Chabad at Pitt is an organization that has been serving the Pitt Jewish community for almost 30 years. Their mission is to create a safe space to talk about Jewish values and ways of life.  Since Saturday, the Chabad House has increased its efforts to be a welcoming and safe environment.

They are providing professional counseling and support to those affected by the shooting. Rabbi Shmuli Rothstein, of Chabad at Pitt, offered insight into how the organization plans to move forward as a community.

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“The most important part right now is creating the family atmosphere where everyone can feel united and together,” Rothstein said.

Many students, Jewish or not, have turned to Chabad House seeking comfort or looking for a place to help. Rothstein is encouraging positive energy and action.

There is a mourning phase that needs to be respected. At the same time there is a strong powerful energy that can be harvested for bringing more light into this world,” Rothstein said.  

Hillel Jewish University Center, an organization that encourages students to “pursue tzedek (social justice), Jewish learning, and to support Israel and global Jewish peoplehood,” is offering even more opportunities for action. President of Hillel Jewish University Center, Brian Burke, laid out the events that Hillel JUC has planned in response to Saturday’s shooting.

“We have a number of events this week that are being tailored around healing, honoring the memories of the victims, and spreading messages of hope and social justice, including Challah for Hunger baking, Shabbat services and dinner and our annual Hillel Makes A Difference Day of Service,” Burke said.

The Challah for Hunger bake will take place at the Hillel Center on Forbes Avenue, next to Starbucks, on Thursday. The Hillel Center will also host Hillel Make A Difference Day on Sunday, according to the Hillel Center’s website.

Non-Jewish campus organizations, like Pitt’s Student Government Board, have also offered their sympathy and services in the wake of the shooting.

SGB offered their sympathies with a public statement on Facebook on Saturday. They promoted several resources in a Facebook post, including different opportunities for counseling, which is something that Hillel JUC and Chabad on Campus is also offering.

“We stand with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and we urge everyone to reach out to their loved ones during this difficult time,” the statement said.

SGB President Maggie Kennedy explained how SGB plans on aiding the affected communities in the future.

“We will continue to connect people to the different resources that Pitt offers, and we will continue to work with and support Student Affairs as they provide extra services for those who need it,” Kennedy said.  

SGB is encouraging students to partake in various activities to help those affected by the shooting. Their public statement, which Kennedy pointed to, lists different events and drives where students can show their solidarity.

SBG’s original Facebook post has been re-posted with updates on different events and drives including a link for a GoFundMe fundraiser for the Tree of Life Synagogue, a link to a CBS Pittsburgh article with information about donating blood to victims and an update about counselor availability at the William Pitt Union on Monday.

Many non-Jewish students are lending their support and solidarity by taking part in vigils and conversation. Rachel Romac, a first-year English writing and psychology major, took the opportunity to attend the vigil at Soldiers and Sailors on Sunday night. Romac has family from Pittsburgh and grew up in the nearby town of Greensburg. She said she was struck by how high-profile the coverage was.

“I turned my TV on. I just had the local news on. I kept changing the channel just to see who was covering it,” Romac said.

She said it is important for students to be as supportive as possible towards one another during this trying time.

“Remember this is a fragile time for a lot of people and that they have different reactions. Be respectful, loving, understanding and self-aware,” Romac said.