With the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial entering its fourth week, Michele Rosenthal, whose brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal were among 11 worshippers killed on Oct. 27, 2018, wanted to thank those supporting the survivors and families of victims.
During a May 12 media briefing at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Rosenthal praised volunteers, Jewish professionals and neighbors.
Rather than focusing on the “emotionally overwhelming” magnitude of the trial, she said she wanted to highlight the “solidarity and kindness that I have felt, not only from my friends, but even from complete strangers.”
Since jury selection began on April 24, numerous individuals have donated and delivered food to the federal courthouse for survivors and family members.
“Being able to share lunch together and not worry about where to go or how much time we have away from the courtroom is so important and gives comfort to all of us,” Rosenthal said. “It is not just the food, but more importantly the love and care that has gone into providing it and getting it to us.”
Gregg Caliguiri, co-owner of Shady Grove, Walnut Grill, Blue Sky and Pizzaiolo Primo, told the Chronicle his restaurants have agreed to send free pizzas to the courthouse once a month, and will provide more food if asked.
“Michele has been a great friend for a long time, but it’s more important than that,” he said. “It’s showing our community the kind of support that we have for one another.”
Behind the donations is another message, though.
Some people try to intimidate and “spread fear,” Caliguiri said. “We won’t be intimidated.”
More powerful than any weapon, Caliguiri continued, is “unity, and that’s what Pittsburgh does better than anyone.”
Along with Caliguiri’s restaurants, Rosenthal thanked Bakersfield, The Eagle, Big Burrito, Candy Favorites, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Food for Thought, Giant Eagle, Mineo’s Pizza and the Smallman Street Deli.
Restaurateurs and their staff, Jewish professionals — including Maggie Feinstein and Ranisa Davidson of the 10.27 Healing Partnership — and volunteers are putting in vast resources “to make this possible,” Rosenthal said. “I’m not comfortable talking about the trial right now, but I will share with you, sitting in the room with other family members and hearing the questions of ‘Where did this come from?’ ‘Who was so kind enough to do this?’ I don’t have the words to tell you how much this means to us.”
“There’s enough hate in our community,” she continued. “Let’s focus on the good and amplify those voices and those actions because that’s what my brothers would have wanted.”
Rosenthal was among several speakers who addressed the media during the news conference.
Shawn Brokos, Federation’s director of community security, described the organization’s relationship with law enforcement, first responders and the community at large.
While maintaining the role of “liaison” between the community and local, national and federal authorities, Federation has adopted a “trauma-informed approach,” Brokos said.
For many people, the task of remaining “continually vigilant” and reporting suspicious activity or threats, is “an exhausting place to be,” she said. “That’s again why relationships with JFCS, the 10.27 Healing Partnership and mental health community are so important.”
JFCS and other local organizations have partnered to provide therapists in the courthouse during jury selection, said Jordan Golin, JFCS’ president and CEO.
This is the first time most of the people directly impacted by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting have been “face-to-face with the defendant,” he said. “We know that when the trial itself starts, the intensity is going to ratchet up. And especially once the guilt phase is over and the penalty phase begins, there will be much more intensity at that time as well.”
Counseling, support groups and other services offered by JFCS, the 10.27 Healing Partnership and UpStreet Pittsburgh are not only for those directly impacted by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Golin said: “People who may have had other experiences of trauma are finding that those past experiences are being activated and triggered by the trial.”
For that reason, anyone with trauma symptoms should reach out, he said.
As the community looks to bolster itself, it’s imperative to include Pittsburgh’s youth, he said.
When mass casualty events transpire there’s an impulse to serve adults, “but our young people, teenagers, young adults, are equally impacted,” Golin said.
Apart from the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, teenagers and young adults have dealt with the pandemic — which separated them from their peers during a critical developmental stage — and reports of constant violence.
Since 2018, there have been 163 school shootings, resulting in 112 deaths and 294 injuries, according to Education Week.
“The many, many, many school shootings have weighed heavily on our young people,” Golin said.
UpStreet Pittsburgh, JFCS’ virtual drop-in center has served more than 800 12- to 22-year-olds since launching in October 2020.
Groundbreaking on a physical space offering face-to-face support began in December. Located at the former Forward Lanes, the site is scheduled to open in June. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Pittsburgh Union Progress in a collaboration supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.