Communities and Temples
Shabbat Shalom: Remembering Tree of Life in Pittsburgh 3 Years On, And What We Can Learn From Día De Los Muertos

Shabbat Shalom: Remembering Tree of Life in Pittsburgh 3 Years On, And What We Can Learn From Día De Los Muertos

Three years ago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Shabbat and in the security of their synagogue, 11 members of the Tree of Life community lost their lives. We must do better in how we react.

By Bobby Apperson

Say these names below aloud. I’m in Mexico and everyone is gearing up for the weekend of both Halloween and Day of the Dead, an opportune time on the anniversary of this horror to look at how we remember those lost. As we remember these 11 people, we must prioritize their lives and their names, the impact they had during their incredible lives, and the impact this tragedy had. It led to at least woman joining the Jewish people (see below), and I began my journey some 8 months later with them in my heart.

What name we will not say or include here is the shooter’s, and much more on that below.

  • Joyce Fienberg, 75
  • Richard Gottfried, 65
  • Rose Mallinger, 97
  • Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
  • Cecil, 59 & David Rosenthal, 54
  • Bernice, 84 & Sylvan Simon, 86
  • Daniel Stein, 71
  • Melvin Wax, 88
  • Irving Younger, 69

Read about them here. Say their names. I invited them into my mikvah one year ago.

זיכרונה לברכה

זיכרונו לברכה

May their memories be a blessing.

Two things frustrate the fuck out of me in how this shooting is covered:

  1. Wikipedia pays no mind to who the victims were or anything about their lives.

  • I look to Wikipedia for all things Jewish history first and for many of my searches it’s the first result. And here it disappoints by mentioning the shooter’s name first thing.
  • Yet you must scroll down three whole screens to see the names of those robbed from the world, and
  • A much longer section below it begins with the shooter’s name in bold, standing out against the names of the slain
  • The “Victims” section is the shortest on the page, and
  • The “Suspect” section is the longest with thorough background on who he was, making him more important than the 11, and tells us his parents’ names and about his upbringing, while again, only mentioning names of his victims and no other information; and
  • There’s no mention of my second issue at all, which is the coverage that makes the same mistake Wikipedia does:
Image of the Wikipedia page showing the “Victims” section (list of names only) followed by a lengthy biography of a mass murderer, name in bold, and all about his family. Not a link or mention of the victims’ lives. Here, I’ve blurred out the shooter’s full name, though his last name is visible.
  1. The media covers this still like any other mass shooting, which helps ensure more attacks like it happen.

  • It was a specifically antisemitic attack by an antisemitic shooter; it was not an attack on all religion, and it was not “just” another mass shooting in America
  • This man specifically targeted Jews and his vitriol was directly tied to his hate of immigrants and other minorities
  • He specifically targeted this synagogue because of their support of migrants to the US
  • This hate and all antisemitism is based on the Jewish people as a people and ethnicity, not solely as a religion. Read these incredible slides for more:

I can not imagine what these people went through, nor their families and community. I am a part of the Jewish community now, and it pains me to revisit it as it pains me to see the larger culture give more time, energy, and words to a murderer than his victims, some of them Holocaust survivors. Talking about the victims and who they were humanizes Jews and helps ensure this doesn’t happen again; even mentioning the shooter’s name, which I have not done here, inspires others to follow him.

I write from Guadalajara, Mexico, and as my time in this beautiful, welcoming country comes to a close for now, we enter a weekend (and coming week) of recognizing and celebrating the dead. I’ll let a Jewish Mexican voice expound on that here below from Hey Alma.

Shabbat shalom.

When You’re a Mexican Jew, Halloween and Day of the Dead Are Complicated

The magic of being a 21st century Jew is that I can embrace both sides of my ancestry.

By Francesca Reznik, October 25, 2021

What wisdom do the ancestors have for me that I have been unable to access? What secrets are they holding in their hands, waiting to whisper in my ear, if only I could ground myself enough to connect with them?

Carolin Voelker/Getty Images