Events around Western Pa. will honor Tree of Life victims 1 year after attack
Grief defies borders.
As the world focuses on commemorating the one-year mark of the country’s most violent anti-Semitic attack, synagogues across Western Pennsylvania will hold special services of their own.
Rabbi Amy Bardack of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is coordinating events marking one year after Oct. 27, 2018, when a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue, opened fire with an assault weapon and murdered 11 people from the three congregations that worshipped there.
Bardack said she has been collaborating with victims’ families and Pittsburgh synagogues since November 2018 to plan events in the city to honor the lives lost and the people affected by the attack.
The events around the city that day include blood drives, traditional Jewish ceremonies that honor the victims, and bike-delivered cookies to first responders. For a list of events, visit pittsburghoct27.org.
Bardack said individuals are coming together as one to commemorate the one-year mark.
“There’s a feeling of solace, hope, and an embrace of other diverse communities standing with us. It’s a very powerful feeling of support,” she said.
And the support isn’t just coming from the Jewish community, Bardack said.
“I know of some churches in the community that will ring church bells at 9:50 (a.m.), which is around when the shooting started,” she said.
In Monroeville, Temple David will host “From Darkness to Light … From Embrace to Hope,” an evening of remembrance, art and worship. Therapy dogs will be present. The event, which kicks off at 6:15 p.m. Oct. 26, is free and open to the public.
Jewish cemeteries in Carrick, Sheraden, Gibsonia, Brentwood and Penn Hills will hold clean-ups of old gravesites from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Congregation Emanu-El Israel in Greensburg will host a community observance Oct. 25 with a special Shabbat service with candle lighting at 7:30 p.m. The synagogue will also take part in a panel discussion Oct. 30 at Seton Hill University.
The discussion, focusing on how the community has coped in the aftermath of the attack, will be at Cecilian Hall on the second floor of the Administration Building. It is free and open to the public. Panelists include members of the clergy, including rabbi emerita of Congregation Emanu-El Israel.
“We all feel the hurt,” said Rabbi Lenny Sarko of Emanu-El. He served as a rabbi in Indiana before moving to Greensburg this year. When the news hit his community in Indiana, people from all religions gathered to show support for the victims.
“When something like this happens, it doesn’t keep itself within the bounds of the religion that it hits,” he said.
In Allison Park, Temple Ohav Shalom will clear its scheduled religious school sessions for Oct. 27.
“Out of respect for the whole community, we’re partnering in social action events in the city. So we’re all going to be with the entire Jewish community and put our energy into that,” said Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt.
He noted other special events happening around the region show the “profound effect it had on our community.”
Adat Shalom Synagogue in Cheswick will host a Tree of Life memorial program from 7 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 24. According to its website, people from surrounding churches have been invited to take part in the event.
Rabbi David C. Novitsky, of Beth Israel in Washington, said the synagogue will likely not have a special service on Oct. 27. As a victim of violent crime unrelated to the Tree of Life shooting, he understands victims’ varying reactions to events that potentially drudge up painful memories.
“We mourn by following Jewish law,” Novitsky said, which involves reciting prayers for 11 months following a death.
“Unfortunately the victims will not have closure,” he said. “I think God is compassionate and merciful and if we turn to God, he might lighten the burden a little bit. But that’s all we can do.”
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .