Several hundred Pittsburgh community members gathered on Oct. 27 beneath a sun-filled sky, surrounded by bright autumn foliage at Schenley Park, to remember the 11 Jewish men and women killed four years ago in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.
“It is our sacred duty to remember,” Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh Director Lauren Bairnsfather said during closing remarks at the commemoration ceremony. “I am grateful to be part of a community where individuals have been willing to see that we have much more that connects us than could ever divide us.”
The interfaith event was hosted by 10.27 Healing Partnership Director Maggie Feinstein and was attended by survivors of the attack, family members of those murdered, local Jewish lay leaders, rabbis, politicians and members of the Jewish community at large.
“We all stand here together,” Feinstein said, opening the ceremony, “because we remember that we are stronger together. Neighbors, religious and secular leaders have loudly stated that antisemitism has no place in Pittsburgh.”
Eleven candles were lit to begin the service in memory of those killed at the Tree of Life building: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. The victims were members of the three congregations housed in the building: Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life Congregation.
Rabbi Amy Bardack, formerly of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and now a rabbi at Congregation Dor Hadash, sang “El Malei Rahamim,” a prayer for the dead often chanted at funerals or at graveside visits.
Bardack said her new role meant focusing on the members of the congregation rather than the community as a whole. She spent much of the day offering pastoral care.
Dor Hadash continues to heal while tackling the work of reconnection following the COVID-19 pandemic, Bardack said, adding that the congregation will hold another service on the Hebrew yahrzeit of those murdered.
Two choirs were featured during the ceremony. The Pittsburgh Youth Choir sang “Peace Round,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “Now I Walk in Beauty.” The Rodman Street Baptist Choir offered renditions of “I Need You to Survive” and “The Blessing.”
Feinstein said the decision to have two choirs was intentional, noting the event’s working commit-tee opted to include the Pittsburgh Youth Choir rather than the chevra kadisha, which was involved in previous ceremonies.
“Not because we don’t value them but because we wanted to have our focus shift from where we were and what happened and who the helpers were to who carries this forward,” she said. “To the credit of our amazing chevra kadisha, they agreed.”
The poem “Epitaph” by Merrit Malloy was recited by New Light Co-President Barbara and congregant Deb Salvin, Jean Clickner and Beth Silver of Dor Hadash and Ellen Sikov and Rose Gerson of Tree of Life.
An especially touching moment occurred when an emotional Hannah Kaye, whose mother Lori Gilbert-Kaye was murdered at Chabad of Poway six months after the shooting at the Tree of Life building, recited the Mi Sheberach, the prayer for healing.
The survivors and witnesses of the antisemitic attack sang Psalm 23.
Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Pittsburgh Councilperson Erika Strassburger recited “A Prayer for our Country.”
Strassburger said she was honored to be included in the ceremony but wished it didn’t take a tragedy to bring together the community.
“The work we do is grounded in living life like those whose lives were taken would have wanted us to,” she said.
Gainey said it has always been important for him to be at the Oct. 27 commemoration ceremony, noting that he attended the event before he was elected mayor.
“Remembering life is something that’s an honor,” he said. “Today we come to remember the lives that were lost and in that we find love. In that, we show collaboration and working together. That’s what today means. We continue to say we don’t forget and always choose love over hate.”
Bairnsfather said that the trauma of that day isn’t far removed from the community.
“It’s never so far away that we move on from it,” she said. “But I think we saw our own strength and resilience in the immediate aftermath, and it only grows in this incredible network of relation-ships and organizations, working together, inside and outside of the Jewish community.”
Pennsylvania state Rep. Dan Frankel, who represents Squirrel Hill, recently was the target of antisemitic attacks on Gab. He said that while the community is still traumatized, it is strong and resilient.
“Commemorations like this are an important part of healing,” Frankel said, “and a way to remember and honor the victims.”
James Pasch, Anti-Defamation League regional director in Cleveland, which includes Pittsburgh, attended the ceremony because it is important for the community to come together, he said.
“Both to remember the 11 lives that were lost and all those that were affected by the events that took place, and to show that we will always come together to celebrate and remember their lives and to recommit ourselves to the fight ahead,” Pasch said. “There’s always strength in numbers. Each year I come here, I learn something else about the community and the city of Pittsburgh — its resiliency, determination and the commitment and strength of love.”
Other attendees included state Sen. Jay Costa; City Controller Michael Lamb; Pennsylvania Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro; Republican congressional candidate for the 12th District, Mike Doyle, and his Democratic opponent, Summer Lee; The Black Political Empowerment Project founder Tim Stevens; and former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano did not attend the ceremony.
Also absent were Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers and New Light Rabbi Jonathan Perlman. Feinstein said both were planning to attend but chose not to after becoming ill.
Feinstein said that the ceremony was just one component of the month of commemoration events available to the community.
“It’s about having many different venues where people can go and do what feels right,” she said. “Lots of people did other things in more quiet ways that felt right.”
Jason Kunzman, chief program director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, said that commemoration is critical to both individual and collective healing.
“I see this as playing a very important role and being able to gain some perspective — taking a moment to contemplate the role that we call can play, making our city and commonwealth a better place as we move forward,” he said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.