Freedom and Passover 6 months after the Tree of Life massacre |

Freedom and Passover 6 months after the Tree of Life massacre

Bishop Carl E. Jones, who leads Greater Parkview Church, breaks matzah during a Passover Seder on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at Emanu-El Israel.
A Seder plate is on display during a Passover Seder on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at Emanu-El Israel.
A traditional Passover Seder plate is adorned with the traditional foods of Passover during a model Seder at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill on Wednesday, March 20, 2013.

A threat to the freedom that Jews celebrate during Passover is still fresh in the mind of the Pittsburgh community.

Passover starts at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday, April 27, the six-month anniversary of the massacre at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue.

“The first Passover without 11 members of our community, who should be here celebrating with us, is difficult,” said Joshua Sayles, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “For a significant portion of our community it will take years to heal, and things will never be the same.”

The Passover Seder — a traditional dinner that takes place during the holiday — includes the retelling of the enslavement of Jews in Egypt and ends with their being freed. The holiday is a chance for Jews to remember their roots and focus on people around the world who are oppressed.

Judith Yanowitz, the ritual vice president of congregation Dor Hadash, one of the congregations targeted in the attack, said the Oct. 27 shooting invigorated the Jewish community in Pittsburgh.

Robert Bowers is accused of opening fire inside the synagogue, where the Dor Hadash, Tree of Life and New Life congregations were holding services. Eleven people were killed. Several people were wounded.

“We can’t be complacent,” Yanowitz said. “We need to constantly be aware and fighting for religious freedom for all people.”

Yanowitz said she’ll be thinking about her neighbors this Passover. Gun violence, the shooting at her synagogue, the June killing of Antwon Rose II and the January shooting of Jonathan Freeman, a 16-year-old honors student from Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill will be on her mind.

“I think more in front of us is the need to reach out to other communities,” she said. “I think the incredible outpouring of community in Squirrel Hill made — particularly the congregation — us realize the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in our local area.”

She said her Seder this year will look at the ills of modern day and focus on a discussion of how to help bring freedom and equality to all people. She said her family’s Seder has involved discussions about those who have not and cannot celebrate freedom yet. In the past, they have talked about sex slaves in Africa, Yanowtiz said. This year will be different.

“It’s more going to be focused on what can we do with our own community, within the Pittsburgh area,” she said.

The Seder at Rodef Shalom, a large synagogue in Shadyside where many of the funerals for those killed at Tree of Life were held, will focus on the experience of immigrants and refugees, something Jews have faced throughout their history.

“One of the commandments with regard to Passover is to imagine that we were slaves in the land of Egypt,” Rabbi Aaron Bisno said. “But when Jews remember that they were slaves, it doesn’t end with slavery, so it means that we also were immigrants and refugees fleeing a dangerous circumstance in the country of our birth.”

Bisno said that message will be key to the congregation’s Seder. They plan to use material from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which works to resettle and aid immigrants to the United States. Dor Hadash had committed to working with the aid group, and that, in part, motivated Bowers.

Sayles said Passover could be a hard time for those still healing from the shooting. Nearly six months have passed, but each community member heals in his own time and in his own way, he said.

“Oftentimes, the most difficult holiday after the loss of a loved one or family member or friend or somebody in your community is that first holiday observance,” Sayles said. “While we as a community have celebrated Hanukah and Purim, this is the first Passover — this is our first major holiday — in the community since the shooting.”

Megan Guza and Paul Guggenheimer are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or by email at [email protected]

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.