On June 14, a lively group of volunteers of all ages at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill sewed blue and white clouds as a part of the 10.27 Healing Partnership’s latest initiative: crafting sensory objects for those testifying in the synagogue massacre trial.
Julie Arnheim suggested the crafting project after being inspired by her aunt Nancy Rosenthal’s work in the Women of Rodef Shalom’s sewing group.
The design was chosen for its easy-to-replicate shape, making it accessible to those with no experience cutting fabric, and the blue color represents solidarity with the community. The first batch of clouds was delivered on June 16 to the courthouse where survivors, families and loved ones of the victims could use them.
The clouds, Arnheim said, illustrate the community’s love.
“I hope that they literally can feel the love knowing that these were handmade for them,” she said.
Dormont resident Jillian Traynor felt compelled to help when she heard about the program.
“When this opportunity came to help, I thought it was only right that I chip in where I can,” she said. “If they can provide just a little bit of comfort or grounding to people who had their world turned upside down, then that’s all we can hope for.”
Eli Kurs-Lasky, a Temple Sinai congregant, said his inexperience in sewing did not stop him from supporting those testifying.
“The idea of giving these survivors and families and friends, loved ones, something to hold just felt very necessary,” Kurs-Lasky says. “I just felt kind of called to do it even though I don’t know what I’m doing in terms of sewing. I want them to know that Pittsburgh is behind them, the Jewish community is behind them.”
Amy Kennedy, one of the few volunteers with stitching experience, believes handmade gifts can offer a message of support.
“I do a lot of hand-stitching, so I enjoy making this,” Kennedy said. “And with all the stitching I do, I feel like every stitch is a prayer, so to speak. I think it does carry a lot of good feeling or warm wishes to whoever you give your stitching to.”
Each volunteer had a connection to the shooting that led to them stitching in the same room. Traynor quit her job as a news producer in Columbus, Ohio, after Oct. 27, 2018. Kennedy lived on Shady Avenue and worked as a pharmacist in the same building as Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who was killed in the massacre. Kurs-Lasky was a member of Tree of Life for 16 years.
“I think that, for years now, I’ve been trying to find a way to not only communicate with others about it but also just kind of contribute something,” Kurs-Lasky said. “But I didn’t know how. I’m not a very loud person or vocal … I just thought this seems like something that I can do. It’s a small way to give back.”
The 10.27 Healing Partnership’s outreach coordinator, Emery Malachowski, said all emotions — from joy to grief — are welcome at the crafting events and hopes that the sewing is as therapeutic for the volunteers as it is for those receiving the clouds.
“It’s also a huge reminder that the community is behind the people at court, that people are being supported, that people have a large community of love, and that love has existed before Oct. 27 and will continue to exist in the future,” Malachowski said.
The 10.27 Healing Partnership is a temporary 10-year organization whose aim is to give community members the tools and techniques to continue to ease trauma after it closes in 2028. During the trial, it is offering support to the victims, their families and witnesses. It is also offering walk-in therapy sessions to all community members and has a calendar of other healing programs, like yoga and drum circles.
Another crafting event will be held on June 21 from 5-6 p.m. in the Squirrel Hill JCC. The Partnership provides materials and instructions, and all skill levels are welcome. PJC
Abigail Hakas 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.