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Editorial: Remember the Tree of Life

| Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, 3:33 p.m.
The memorial for those killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
The memorial for those killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

Remember. Don’t forget.

When tragedies occur, whether big and attention-grabbing or smaller and more personal, there is an immediate human need to hold on to what was lost.

We want to stop the world from spinning. We don’t want things to move on because when they do move on, it might not be the same because someone we loved isn’t with us anymore. How can Tuesday be Tuesday when everything is different? How can people go to work or drive a car or watch a movie like everything hasn’t changed?

That is why when we mourn, we make pilgrimages and leave behind mementos of our grief.

This week, workers began the painstaking job of excavating a city’s sorrow as they deconstruct the memorial that blossomed in the shadow of the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

The white Stars of David with the names of the 11 victims of violence were topped with a quarry of stones, some simple and some decorated. One bore a number — 6,000,011. It spoke of just why the wound is so deep, blending Pittsburgh’s tragedy with the shameful horror of the lives lost in the Holocaust.

It is all being recorded while some is preserved and collected for history.

It has to happen. That street corner can’t become a de facto cemetery where we bury our faith in humanity.

Our world can’t stop spinning no matter how much changed that Saturday morning, so the flowers and the candles and expressions of love and loss and faith have to be packed up.

But the rocks? Those we need to hold in our hearts.

The stones left at Jewish graves are a kind of viral memory.

“When others notice the rocks, they will see that this is a grave visitors frequent, and they too will take an interest in who is buried there, and perhaps will visit the grave site themselves,” according to Chabad.org .

We need to remember what happened at the Tree of Life the way we remember the Alamo or Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center or the plane that buried itself in the ground in Shanksville.

If we just remember for a while and then let Tuesday be Tuesday again when the stars don’t tell the story on that street corner, we lose the opportunity to make 11 deaths mean more than holes in the lives of the people who loved them.

The memory of the victims should challenge us every day to oppose hatred and violence. If remembering the Maine could help get us into a war and remembering Pearl Harbor could help win one, surely remembering what happened in Squirrel Hill can help us strive for peace.

Remember the Tree of Life. And every time you do, let the stone you leave behind be one good thing you do in honor of those 11 lives.

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