Tree of Life members attend New Jersey memorial dedication
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Tree of Life members attend New Jersey memorial dedication

Pittsburgh delegation welcomed by hundreds at Shabbat services and dedication.

Representatives of Tree of Life*Or L'Simcha gathered with members of Temple Shalom in Succasunna, New Jersey prior to the sculpture dedication. Photo courtesy of Cliff Levine
Representatives of Tree of Life*Or L'Simcha gathered with members of Temple Shalom in Succasunna, New Jersey prior to the sculpture dedication. Photo courtesy of Cliff Levine

With feelings of gratitude, kinship and remembrance, representatives of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha recently crossed state lines to help dedicate a glass memorial designed in memory of those murdered during the Oct. 2018 attack at the Tree of Life building.

Rose Gersen, Irwin Harris, Rosanne Levine and members of the Mallinger family were among several Tree of Life members who traveled to the Garden State on Jan. 12 and participated in a special Shabbat service and dedication with representatives of Temple Shalom in Succasunna, New Jersey.

“We were so overwhelmed and humbled by the support that the entire community offered to us,” said Levine. “The congregation members were incredibly gracious and supportive.”

Months earlier, members of Temple Shalom had visited Pittsburgh, and from their time here “they felt a connection,” said Barb Feige, Tree of Life’s executive director.

“We have had many visitors and I remember them being a really warm group, so when they said they wanted to do something to memorialize the group we lost I thought it was very special,” said Gersen.

“They were very warm and welcoming when they were here and I figured I should go to reciprocate in part and in honor of those we lost,” echoed Harris, one of several Tree of Life ambassadors trained in handling requests for visits or speaking engagements.

A glass sculpture memorial was dedicated in memory of the 11 Jews murdered on Oct. 27, 2018. Photo by Cliff Levine

Levine organized elements of the trip, and while the Steel City travelers had some idea what the weekend would bring they were surprised by the outpouring of support.

Among the hundreds attending the Friday night services, Roxbury News reported, was U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, Roxbury Deputy Mayor Fred Hall, NJ-Israel Commission Executive Director Andrew Gross, World Union for Progressive Judaism President Rabbi David Saperstein, Jewish National Fund CEO Russell Robinson and First Presbyterian Church of Succasunna Pastor Rev. Carie Morgan.

“The speakers were just wonderful in being supportive to us as members of Tree of Life but also talking a lot about the climate in the country, and what happened in Brooklyn, Jersey City and Poway,” said Gersen.

Preceding the speeches and service was a special Friday night dinner.

“It may sound very formal, but it was very warm and it was really a lovely evening,” said Gersen.

“They worked incredibly hard on putting this together,” added Levine.

“On Saturday, they had a beautiful service and all of us from Tree of Life had separate aliyahs and it was very nice,” noted Gersen.

Alan Mallinger and artist Maggie Green. Photo by Cliff Levine

Throughout Shabbat, efforts were made to include the Pittsburgh delegation, and because of the kind sentiments of Temple Shalom’s staff and lay leaders, “it was a spiritual weekend,” said Harris.

Before returning to Pittsburgh on Jan. 13, the Steel City group was gifted a replica of the glass memorial by representatives of the New Jersey congregation.

“We will be bringing that to Tree of Life in the next day or so and it will be displayed and explained to the congregation,” said Levine.

“Being able to share the stories of the 11” was an impetus for going, and having now returned “I would do it again,” said Harris.

“It was emotional,” echoed Gersen. “We are looking forward at Tree of Life. We will never forget, but we have to look forward and look toward the future.”

Feige said she was pleased with the trip’s success, as well as the continued support received by the congregation: “Trauma goes on and everything we can do that moves healing forward is a good thing.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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