Artwork unveiled to surround Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh
Inspired by the hundreds of pieces of art sent from around the world in the aftermath of the Tree of Life synagogue attack, members of three congregations gathered those images of strength and hope and decided to share them with the community.
The Squirrel Hill synagogue has been shrouded in chain-link fencing and blue tarps ever since a gunman killed 11 congregants during Shabbat services on Oct. 27.
Many nearby residents felt the tarps attached to the fence looked desolate and depressing, said Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg, a board member at the Tree of Life congregation.
“We thought, ‘That’s not who were are,’ ” she said Thursday outside of the synagogue as the art was unveiled.
In April, the congregations of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light put out a call for artwork to wrap the chain-link fence surrounding the building. All three congregations were housed in the building.
“In the aftermath of the attack, our neighbors, our city – people were so loving, so kind and they rushed to our side and they supported us,” Eisenberg said.
Many turned to artwork to express their heartache, their support and their hope, she said. The art made the congregations stronger, she said, and they were ready to project the strength back to the city.
“We realized that those blue tarps were really a blank canvas,” Eisenberg said.
Of the many online submissions received, 224 were technically viable — meaning the resolution was high enough to be printed.
A total of 101 were chosen to appear on the block-long canvas. Half of them are from students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In 2018, a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at the school.
She said they also received submissions from Columbine High School in Colorado where, in 1999, two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher. Two submissions came from Newtown High School in Connecticut, where a gunman at the town’s elementary school killed 20 young children and six adults in 2012.
Looking at the artwork from Columbine and Parkland students, Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, “That they’re able to go through what they’ve been through yet share with the world messages of hope is incredible.”
New Light President Stephen Cohen gestured to the artwork and said, “I think what we see here, in a word, is love.”
He read a poem by the ancient Chinese writer Lao Tzu:
Thirty spokes are joined in the wheel’s hub.
The hole in the middle makes it useful.
Mold clay into a bowl.
The empty space makes it useful.
Cut out doors and windows for the house.
The holes make it useful.
Therefore, the value comes from what is there,
But the use comes from what is not there.
“What you have here is that exterior,” Cohen said. “If you build something that is beautiful around the exterior, what is inside the heart lives … and allows the people – the victims, the congregation – to heal, to move on, and to be able to look for a day when this building will reopen as a site for prayer, for family, for community, for love.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .