Allderdice students plant trees in memory of Tree of Life victims |

Allderdice students plant trees in memory of Tree of Life victims

Paul Guggenheimer
A newly planted Dawn Redwood tree on the front lawn of Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill.
Allderdice students planted 11 Dawn Redwood trees in memory of Tree of Life victims on the front lawn of the campus.
A newly planted Dawn Redwood on the front lawn of Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill.

Allderdice High School basketball coach Buddy Valinsky was particularly affected by the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill. He knew many of the victims, including his cousins Bernice and Sylvan Simon.

Valinsky decided it was important to carry out a time-honored Jewish tradition of planting a tree in Israel in memory of a loved one. Only in this case, the 11 trees would be planted on the Allderdice campus, one for each victim.

“I just thought it would be something that we could keep in the community,” said Valinsky, a 1978 Allderdice graduate. “It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I’ve coached and won a lot of games here but this is fantastic.”

On Tuesday, about 75 Allderdice students wearing green “Dice, Stronger Than Hate” T-shirts planted 11 trees in 30-minute intervals on the front lawn of the high school. The trees were planted in a circle and eventually there will be a bench in the middle. The event was overseen by the nonprofit organization Tree Pittsburgh and an initiative called One Tree Per Child.

“A lot of them have never dug a hole before, so that’s one exciting part for a lot of these students, you can tell by the smiles on their faces,” said Joe Stavish, community education coordinator for Tree Pittsburgh. “Everyone today was here to plant and showed up ready to work and made our job a lot easier.”

The work really began last fall when the basketball team and other students came together to raise money to purchase the trees. Valinsky reached out to senior Emily Pressman, 17, who was one of the students who organized the vigil the day of the Tree of Life shooting, to help organize this.

“No matter how much you do, we don’t want this (the Tree of Life shooting) to be forgotten,” Pressman said as she took a break from the planting work. “And we don’t want this to happen again, which it already did (in California). We just wanted to do whatever we can and show everyone how Pittsburgh is stronger than hate.”

It was up to Tree Pittsburgh to figure what trees would grow best. They decided to go with Dawn Redwoods.

“They are a pretty quick-growing tree,” Stavish said. “They thrive in wet areas. This hillside they’re on is really wet. They are going to be pretty significant-sized trees in a few years. They’ll provide shade in the area and make a nice statement here on the lawn of the school.”

“The kids were great, the Board of Education people were fantastic, our maintenance people as well,” said Valinsky. “It was definitely a joint program that everyone came together and did such a wonderful thing.”

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].

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