Various practices accompany a yahrzeit: lighting candles, reciting kaddish and performing other acts of remembrance.
In Pittsburgh, the community will mark the yahrzeits of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger by gathering together and studying Torah.
On the 18th of Cheshvan (Nov. 12) from 2:30-3:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, community members can learn Daf Yomi (a page of Babylonian Talmud), study the weekly Torah reading or hear about efforts to preserve memorial items.
Maggie Feinstein of the 10.27 Healing Partnership said each learning opportunity is a chance to “bring people together from diverse backgrounds.”
Feinstein and fellow community members Eric Lidji and Beth Kissileff worked alongside Anthony Fienberg on the public program.
Fienberg — whose mother, Joyce, was among those murdered in the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018 — said that helping organize yahrzeit study was a way to “contribute meaningfully” to a community he holds dear.
“Maggie gave me this opportunity, and I jumped at it right away,” Fienberg said, speaking from his home in France. “Anything I can do to help.”
Others were eager to help as well.
Since January 2020, Daniel Leger and Dr. Martin Gaynor — both survivors of the Oct. 27 attack — have studied a page of the Babylonian Talmud daily in memory of their friend and fellow Dor Hadash congregant Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who was murdered that day. Leger and Gaynor plan on using the one-hour study session, to be held on the yahrzeit, to explore the nuances of their sizable undertaking with others.
When one attends a Daf Yomi class, learning often transpires through scrutinizing the specific language found on each Talmudic page. Leger and Gaynor are adopting a “meta” approach to page 18 of tractate Nedarim. In doing so, Leger said, listeners may come to appreciate what Nedarim — a Talmudic book focusing on laws relating to vows or oaths — signifies to the survivors nearly three years after committing to daily Talmud study.
“We said that we would do this, and this tractate deals with the importance of words and things that are interpreted as promises, so what does that mean in terms of what we’ve taken on here,” Leger said.
Along with Leger and Gaynor’s discussion, two other sessions aim to prompt similar reflection. Jonathan Zisook, a visiting lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Sociology, will investigate Parsha Vayera — the Torah portion that was unable to be read at congregations Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, due to the attack. Vayera includes verses describing Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction, Isaac’s birth and binding and Hagar and Ishmael’s exile. Zisook plans on tapping these narratives for their “relevance to contemporary Jewish identity and memory.”
In addition to Torah and Talmud study, community members can spend Shabbat afternoon studying with Laurie Eisenberg, a professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University. Eisenberg has undertaken two public history projects related to the attack and will lead a discussion regarding her efforts to preserve and understand the materials left at the Tree of Life site following the massacre.
Each of the sessions is a chance for people to adopt public Jewish study on a significant day, Feinstein said.
The yahrzeit program is scheduled so as not to disrupt synagogue attendance.
“We want to encourage people to go to services in the morning or afternoon that day to honor the memories of the 11,” Feinstein said. “They were all so committed to their congregations and their congregations’ rituals around Shabbat.”
Fienberg praised the community’s desire to both remember lives lost and positively impact neighbors and friends.
“There’s a tendency in our society to write things down, make a speech or do a podcast,” and, as important as those endeavors are, Fienberg said, they function differently from the yahrzeit learning at the JCC. Bringing diverse people together for Torah study is a “unifier,” he continued. “That’s sort of the goal around so many of the initiatives that people have done around the victims of the attack, and it’s very beautiful.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.