Tragedy can create new bonds. In the case of Californian Hannah Kaye, it has made Pittsburgh a “second home.”
During the past four months Kaye, 25, has visited twice: In September, she came to Pittsburgh for the Eradicate Hate Global Summit; in October she traveled here for the communitywide commemoration of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Both times Kaye was encouraged by friends and “soul sisters” to make the trek. They told her, she said, that people in Pittsburgh understand what it means to lose loved ones to antisemitic violence.
On April 27, 2019 — six months after the massacre at the Tree of Life building — Kaye’s mother, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, was attending services at the Chabad of Poway when a gunman entered the building and began shooting. Three people were injured. Gilbert-Kaye was murdered. Hannah Kaye and her father, Dr. Howard Kaye, were present during the attack and are survivors of the shooting.
Six months later — when it came time to mark a year since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting — Kaye and her aunt, Randi Grossman (Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s sister), drafted a letter to the community. The message made its way to Maggie Feinstein, director of the newly-created 10.27 Healing Partnership.
Feinstein replied and a correspondence developed. For the next 2½ years, communication continued. On yahrzeits and special occasions, Kaye and Feinstein exchanged messages.
Never phone calls or Zooms. “Just the written word,” Kaye said.
With Kaye’s permission, Feinstein shared the emails with families who lost loved ones during the attack at the Tree of Life building. Then Kaye began connecting with others in Pittsburgh.
“The connections we had were already instant in terms of our experience of loss,” she said. “For me personally, as a survivor — because I also was there at the shooting; I witnessed my mother's assassination — meeting other survivors of such a similar circumstance, I feel an instant bond, instant connection, instant kinship that is hard to replicate with anyone else in my life.”
Befriending Pittsburghers has been “incredibly meaningful and soul-affirming,” Kaye continued.
“I know it's different for others, but in my personal embodied experience I wasn't really connected to a lot of other survivors, let alone survivors of antisemitic hate crime violence, gun violence. So I feel like when I meet other survivors — especially the survivors that I've had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting — it feels as if I can survive my experience because I'm not alone.”
Visiting Pittsburgh, befriending residents and furthering those ties is “an honor,” Kaye said.
Organizers of the Oct. 27 commemoration at Schenley Park demonstrated that the feeling is mutual by asking Kaye to participate in the program.
Kaye was in Austin, Texas, on the morning of the ceremony. To make it to Pittsburgh in time for the 4 p.m. start, she had to rise early.
“From the moment I woke up, 10/27, the families, the survivors, the victims, were on my mind and heart every moment of the pilgrimage of coming to Pittsburgh,” she said.
Kaye arrived at Schenley Park shortly after the program began. Her role, which was slated to occur midway through the commemoration, was to recite the Mi Shebeirach prayer — a request that God deliver strength and healing. As Kaye reached the side of the stage, “the tears came through me,” she said. “And I just felt incredibly emotional; but not in a bad way, just in a way of profound sorrow, grief, but also gratitude for being able to be present.”
“Watching the ceremony unfold, and just the extraordinarily beautiful and stunning ways that the survivors and their community came together to honor the 11 victims and your community itself, it just moved me,” she continued. “It moved me tremendously so.”
Kaye ascended the podium and recited the Hebrew words of the Mi Shebeirach before repeating the prayer — and the divine call to send a swift and complete healing of body and spirit — in English.
“The reason why it was such an honor that I was asked to do this is because I felt like I was doing it on behalf of my mother,” Kaye said. “I felt like I was able to bring my mother with me during that experience. And there's no words to articulate or describe the language, the profoundness, of that.”
Kaye said she isn’t sure how she can repay Pittsburgh for its kindness. She hopes people here understand how much solidarity and appreciation she holds, and added: “Myself and my family are here for you, and with you, not just on 10/27 — of course on 10/27 — but on every day, every day forever.”
Adopting an eternal responsibility is “a gift and essential,” Kaye continued. “I consider you my brothers and sisters and family, mishpacha.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.