Point Park Globe

City mourns, remembers mass shooting victims

Leaders and students call for hope following tragedy

Written By Carley Bonk and Mick Stinelli, Editor Elect / Co-News Editor

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Photo by Carley Bonk
Isabel Smith exchanges an embrace during the vigil for the victims of the Tree of Life shooting Saturday night. Smith, alongside other high school students, organized the impromptu vigil.

An attack which killed 11 people in a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood has left many in Pittsburgh and across the nation in a state of mourning.

The tragedy set off a wave of tributes around the world, and raised new questions about the presence of anti-Semitism in the United States.

Grace Tyler Frank-Rempel, a freshman intelligence and national security major at Point Park, said she was appalled when she caught wind of the events on Saturday. Frank-Rempel practices Reform Judaism.

“I think it’s sad that society still has negative beliefs towards minorities,” Frank-Rempel said. The news of the shooting left her terrified.

For some, the idea that such potent anti-Semitism was so close to home was too much to comprehend.

“As someone who has been very open about being Jewish, living in Pittsburgh for the first few months, knowing that someone less than fifty miles away had that much hatred was very hard to think about,” freshman theater major Sara Buchdahl said.

It’s part of a larger reality of increased anti-Semitism in the U.S. Anti-Semitic incidents saw a 53 percent increase from 2016 to 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In a press release Saturday, the ADL called the Pittsburgh attack the “deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”

The victims of the attack were identified Sunday morning: Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland; Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township; Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough; Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill; David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill; Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg; Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg; Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill; Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill; Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington.

A vigil was held Saturday evening, just hours following the shooting. A crowd of hundreds gathered at the intersection of Murray and Forbes, where police blocked the streets and rerouted traffic so the community could mourn together.

Families and friends gathered together to sing traditional Jewish songs, burn candles and participate in a moment of silence to remember the 11 members of their neighborhood that were killed that morning.

Students from Taylor Allderdice High School worked alongside Sixth Presbyterian church Saturday afternoon to organize a gathering where community members wouldn’t have to be alone in their grief.

“We need to allow ourselves to grieve and comfort other members of our community,” Cody Murphy, who helped organize the event, said at the opening of the vigil.

The students gathered at a local Starbucks around 2 p.m. to plan the gathering that began around 6:30 that evening. Rebecca Glickman, one of the students who organized the event, lives just two blocks from the Tree of Life Synagogue.

“I was saddened and scared and sure I would know someone who was there,” Glickman said. “After the horrific tragedy this morning, we saw a need in our community to unify together.”

The official vigil was held in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall on Sunday. The auditorium overflowed with people, spilling out of the doors and down the lawn to Fifth Avenue.

Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation – one of the congregations based at Tree of Life, spoke to the crowd about three “pillars” lost in the shooting.

“These three men, they cannot be replaced,” Perlman said. “But we will not be broken. We will not be ruined by this event.”

Sasha McConnell-Edwards, junior behavioral sciences major, isn’t Jewish, but she still felt compelled to attend the vigil. She said she wanted to show up to convey her support for the city.

“Yesterday I remember waking up and finding out about this, and I was just very angry and sad,” McConnell-Edwards said.

McConnell-Edwards hoped the killing would embolden compassionate people, rather than incite more violence.

At Point Park Monday night, over two dozen students gathered in Village Park to memorialize the victims with songs and poetry.

The vigil was organized by Paris Naster, senior theater performances and practices major.

“Don’t become numb, because that’s not us. We’re the artists,” Naster said to the crowd.

Naster, who practices Orthodox Judaism, said she was shocked to see people returning to everyday tasks after a turbulent weekend.

“Coming to school today, I was jarred to see life was still going on,” Naster said.

She said she hoped to bring out the repressed emotions of her fellow students through song.

Rich Keitel, a faculty member of the conservatory of performing arts, attended the gathering. Keitel has lived in Squirrell Hill for over thirty years and is open about his Jewish faith.

“You think things like this could never happen again,” Keitel said.

Keitel said an outpouring of love and support from his current and former students has been a source of hope.

For those who need help processing this tragedy, The Jewish Community Center has been set up as a crisis center by FBI Victim Services. Working alongside The Red Cross, Jewish Family and Community Services, Salvation Army and Center for Victims and Allegheny County Human Services, counseling services are provided and donations for the affected families are welcome.

Mitchell Drake contributed additional reporting.

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