On a day in which Hamas called for global rage, three Jewish women thwarted the summons by exemplifying resilience, demonstrating vulnerability and encouraging difficult decision-making during a conversation with Canon-McMillan High School students.
Organized by Meg Pankiewicz, a teacher at the school, the Oct. 13 program was scheduled long before the war in Israel began.
The program, which included a conversation with Carol Black, Audrey Glickman and Jodi Kart, was intended to mark five years since the Oct. 27, 2018, attack at the Tree of Life building. Black and Glickman survived the shooting; Kart’s father, Melvin Wax, was among 11 Jews murdered during Shabbat services. Given Hamas’ recent attack in Israel, though, the conversation was even more necessary, Pankiewicz told students.
“Just this week, we have seen vicious attacks on the Jewish state of Israel and calls for violence against Jews,” she said. “As someone who has taught the Holocaust for over 20 years, had close relationships with Holocaust survivors and am now currently obtaining my Ph.D. in Holocaust and genocide studies from Gratz College, a private Jewish college, I am often kept awake at night wondering if we have learned anything from the past.”
Thanks to Pankiewicz and the presenters, Friday’s discussion — which occurred on the same day that former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal called for “application” of jihad — was a chance to mine former events for new meaning.
Black, Glickman and Kart recounted their memories of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the friends and loved ones lost and the power of future generations.
Black, a member of New Light Congregation, told students that she heard gunfire during services that morning, retreated to a dark closet and hid for nearly an hour until she was rescued by SWAT members.
Her brother, Richard Gottfried, was one of the 11 Jews murdered by an antisemitic gunman.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Black said.
Glickman, a member of Tree of Life Congregation, recounted that she was leading services when it sounded like “something big and metal fell.”
“It was an automatic weapon that we heard, and we took off,” she continued. “That’s when all hell broke loose.”
Glickman said that she and fellow Tree of Life member Joe Charny retreated upstairs to a classroom filled with bags of clothing; they covered themselves in prayer shawls and hid.
Eventually, Glickman and Charny managed to escape the building.
“We used our wits,” she said.
Kart said she learned of the attack from her son, who was a student at the University of Pittsburgh.
The school had issued an alert, placed students on lockdown and announced that “there’s an active shooter at Tree of Life synagogue,” Kart said. “That’s where my dad was.”
Kart said she headed to Oakland, searched for her father among the victims taken to UPMC Presbyterian and eventually arrived at the makeshift reunification center inside the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, where she waited for hours.
“One by one we were taken into a room with the medical examiner, FBI agent and police officer, and told our loved ones were no longer with us,” she said.
The experience was “surreal,” Kart continued. “It was all very hard to understand what happened within a 12-hour period.”
Throughout their recollections, Black, Glickman and Kart fielded questions from Pankiewicz and the students.
The presenters reiterated that their stories — and the tales of loved ones and friends who died during the shooting — didn’t end on Oct. 27.
“I went back [to services] right away,” Black said. “I decided that the gunman got my brother, but he wasn’t going to get me. I was going to continue to live my life and do the things that I wanted to do. I choose not to live my life in fear. I won’t do that. I’m not going to give that to him.”
Echoing Black, Kart told students, “You can’t let evil win. You can’t let hate take your life from you.”
“Look around and see the people that are around you,” she continued. “The people that you know care about you. They love you and they support you. That’s how I’m able to continue going.”
Glickman tied the events of Oct. 27, 2018, to the war in Israel.
“Hamas is known as a terror organization,” she said. “Its basis is hate the Jews, wipe them out.”
“The answer can’t be hate wins,” Glickman stressed.
“It also can’t be neutrality,” Pankiewicz told students. “There is no such thing as being neutral, because when you’re neutral, you’re still choosing to do something, and it’s nothing.”
Pankiewicz referenced Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
“When you are silent, you are siding with the oppressor,” Pankiewicz said. “That is something you have learned throughout history that we can’t afford to do.”
Following the discussion, Black, Glickman and Kart joined students for a catered lunch from Vincent’s Restaurant in South Pointe.
The daylong program, which was held at Frank Sarris Public Library and included a screening of “Repairing the World: Stories from The Tree of Life,” was critical, students told the Chronicle.
“It took one person to do the attacks at the Tree of Life synagogue. You really just have to be more aware and stop the spread of hate, because one person’s words are so much more powerful than you can imagine.” Eamon O’Donoghue, 18, said.
“High school is such a hard, hard time of life for kids,” Kiersten Williams, 16, said. “There’s people out there that spread hate; and we think that the whole world is filled with hate because they’re the loudest ones. But there’s more good in the world than there is bad. The good people need to stand up.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.