On Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in memory of the one-year mark for the Tree of Life tragedy, I spent the day like many others — volunteering, studying Torah and ending the day with the commemoration service at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.
Standing in the midst of the almost 2,500 people in attendance, I suddenly felt this aloneness. I realized that I have struggled to find my place in the circles of grief, not really knowing where I fit in.
Yes, I went to services and community events at Tree of Life over the years with fellow CDS families and friends, attended bar and bat mitzvahs there as did many in our community. I knew most of the victims because that is the nature of the Squirrel Hill Jewish community. But there is one part I didn’t share with most.
Most didn’t know that an organization I worked with at least a few times a week, NA’AMAT Pittsburgh Council, also shared space in the Tree of Life building. We spent many hours in that building and were there less than 24 hours before the massacre. It was by chance that we weren’t there the next morning when this hate-filled man took the lives of so many of our neighbors.
During the year that followed, I never felt there was an appropriate time to share or couldn’t bring myself to share within the community at large what my connection was and how it affected me. I continued to try to divert my attention to those who were impacted the most — the three congregations, the victims, the survivors and their families. I pushed aside what was going on internally with me. Instead of trying to process my trauma and grief, I retreated, avoided conversations and held in much of what was going on inside of me to the point where it manifested itself in physical symptoms and illnesses. I became a ticking time bomb that to the few who knew me well, only waited for the next bomb to go off.
It was after having one of those ticking-time-bomb moments while running into some friends after the commemoration service that I realized I wasn’t going to move forward unless I acknowledged how I was feeling. I was encouraged to write about my own reflections from my unique vantage point. My hope is that in sharing this, I can break my cycle of isolation and finally join the circle of grieving to begin my personal healing from this tragedy.
By sharing this, I also hope that other community members with unusual connections to Tree of Life and the Tree of Life building can also break the cycle of isolation and ultimately feel less alone as well. pjc
Laura Fehl is a member of NA’AMAT Pittsburgh Council .