A large crowd stands to watch the 5 year commemoration of the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting in Schenley Park this Friday.
A large crowd stands to watch the 5 year commemoration of the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting in Schenley Park this Friday.
Bronco York | Staff Photographer

‘Remembering and reflecting’ : Tree of Life commemoration ceremony honors lives of synagogue massacre victims 5 years later

For Maggie Feinstein, the Tree of Life massacre feels like both old memory and a recent event as she continually works to support families of the attack.

“As we mark the passing of time, five years feels both so long, and also so recent,” Feinstein, director of 10.27 Healing Partnership, said. “Consistently, we all stand with their families to ensure that their memories continue to be a blessing.”

Hundreds gathered at Prospect Drive in Schenley Park at 3 p.m. on Friday in remembrance of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue massacre that occurred five years ago on Oct. 27, taking the lives of 11 Jewish worshippers and wounding six others. 

The commemoration ceremony was hosted by 10.27 Healing Partnership, a human services provider that provides “support, connection and opportunities for reflection for individuals and their loved ones impacted by the October 2018 attack and others who experience hate-induced trauma,” according to their website.

Student ambassadors from local schools shared artwork and positive messages dedicated to victims of the attack. Feinstein opened the ceremony with welcoming remarks. 

“This year, as we saw the trial unfold, and with it the opportunity to better know the many of our neighbors who testified with heart and conviction, our survivors and our first responders, we honor the courage involved to tell the full story of October 27, 2018,” Feinstein said.

Survivors of the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting deliever a joint message during the 5 year commemoration ceremony in Schenley Park this Friday.

Feinstein recognized survivors of the shooting, as well as first responders and government leaders who are dedicated to making Pittsburgh a safer and more inclusive city.

“We recognize those who survived the attack and who would dutifully and joyfully join with the eleven victims to create a worship space on Saturday mornings,” Feinstein said. “We all stand here together because we remember that we are stronger together, that we have a city with religious and secular leaders who loudly stated that antisemitism does not have a place in Pittsburgh on 10/27.”

Feinstein said community members can “bless” and “guard” the memories of Tree of Life massacre victims by telling their stories to “those who come after.”

“In remembering our eleven, we remember and reflect in spirit and action,” Feinstein said. “We take this moment to recognize this day’s significance within all of our own sense of selves, because when you find healthy ways to identify with and belong to a significant moment in our collective history, we can see that it actually connects us all.”

Feinstein then invited the families and friends of victims to come forward. Loved ones lit a candle for each victim — Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger — in their memory.

Following the candle-lighting ceremony, Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffery Myers recited El Malei Rahamim, a prayer for the souls of the departed, in both Hebrew and English. Tree of Life board president Alan Hausman then honored community first responders, including 911 dispatchers, law enforcement officers, EMS personnel, EMTs, paramedics, park rangers and special event staff.

The Three Rivers Young People’s Orchestra followed Hausman’s speech with “The Prayer of Our Children Hatikvah (Hope),” dedicated to the victims of the masacre and featured instruments from the Violins of Hope collection, which were previously played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. 

Artwork by local Pittsburgh children sit on display at the 5 year commemoration of the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting in Schenley Park this Friday. (Bronco York | Staff Photographer)

Feinstein said the three congregations within the Tree of Life — Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha — remember the victims whose lives were taken on Oct. 27 in “unique” ways, but share “the same foundation, and the same purpose” of commitment.

Dan Leger of Dor Hadash, Barbara Caplan of New Light and Irwin Harris of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha  came forward to recite “Every Minute Someone Leaves This World.”

“Every minute, someone leaves the world behind,” Leger, Caplan and Harris said. “We are all in the line without knowing it. We never know how many people are before us. We cannot move to the back of the line. We cannot step out of the line. We cannot avoid the line. So, while we wait in line, make the moments count. Make priorities. Make the time, make your gifts known. Make a nobody feel like a somebody. Make your voice heard, make a small face big, make someone smile. Make the change. Make love. Make up. Make peace. Make sure to tell your people they are loved. Make sure you have no regrets. Make sure you are ready.”

Gordie Felt, former president of Flight 93 National Memorial Partnership, spoke about the role of grief in both the Flight 93 tragedy and Tree of Life massacre.

“We cannot move on in our lives if we are to survive tragedy, because there is no moving on or forgetting, but rather, we must move forward,” Felt said. “In doing so, [we] continue to mourn the loss of lives not lived to their full potential, and at the same time cherish the actions and the lives that were lived.”

A rabbi and priest offer a joint prayer during the 5 year commemoration of the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting in Schenley Park this Friday.

Rabbi Ron Symoms and Reverend Liddy Barlow delivered a speech entitled, “Our Own Merger,” in which they spoke about how “all that has divided us with merge” to create a better Pittsburgh. Survivors and witnesses of the Oct. 27 were then recognized and recited a poem together entitled “Give Us Strength.”

Three government officials — Governor Josh Shapiro, Allegheny Co. Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey — also stepped forward to recite “A Prayer for our Country.” Feinstein thanked the executives for their role in supporting Pittsburgh’s Jewish communities.

“On this day, we remember the sense of safety and security that came to our community in the face of something so violent,” Fienstein said. “As we have civic leaders that unequivocally show their stance against antisemitism and for the protection and safety of the Jewish community, we thank you.”

Eric Olshan, U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania who was part of the prosecution for the synagogue shooting trial , delivered the community address at the event following the performance from the quartet.

Olshan gave personal anecdotes of each of the 11 victims and shared the personal legacy that they left on those closest to them. 

“Despite all of the trauma, and the tears and the heartache and loss, I am grateful, I am lucky, to have been part of this act of remembering, so that there is not just a record of how eleven lives were ended, but also an enduring record of how eleven lives were lived,” Olshan said.