By Adam Reinherz
PITTSBURGH — FINDING light amid the darkness was a recurring theme at the event marking the shloshim, or 30 days, since the tragic murders of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue building.
At the Nov. 26 ceremony, local and international speakers alike encouraged attendees to find inspiration from the countless acts of kindness shown by and for each other over the previous month, seek comfort from the upcoming holiday of Chanukah and continue to remember those lost by loving life itself.
“It’s been 30 days since Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life lost 11 members in the most horrible way possible,” Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein said. But since the Oct. 27 attack, there’s been “tens of thousands of acts of goodwill. … The one simple truth [is] we are stronger together.”
Illustrating that concept, Israel Nitzan, Israel’s deputy consul general for the region that includes Pennsylvania, pointed out the myriad Jews and non-Jews who flooded synagogues throughout New York, where he is based, in recent weeks.
“Virtually every community around the world mourned with you,” echoed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, in a recorded message.
The shloshim traditionally marks the cessation of certain mourning practices less severe than those observed during the shiva period, but more severe than those observed for the rest of the first year following a person’s passing. Adam Hertzman, Federation’s director of marketing, said that approximately 300 people attended the community event commemorating that moment in time at the Marriott City Center on Washington Place.
Members of the Clarion Quartet performed in between speeches, which participants said added to the event’s powerful dynamic.
In his message, Sacks noted that zachor, the Hebrew word for “remember” is found 169 times in the Tanach.
“In every other culture remembering is about the past,” he said. “In Judaism, all remembering is about the future and about life. We cannot change the past, but by remembering we can change the future.”
What the 11 victims “died for, we must now live for,” he added.
Certainly, everyone will remember where they were when they first heard of the attack, said Rabbi Danny Schiff, Federation’s Foundation scholar. The task is to “couple it” with a memory of “one specific event, one act, one instance of human decency. … That’s the Jewish way.”
Following Schiff, Erica Brown, associate professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development and the director of its Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, echoed the rabbi’s comments on communal responsibilities going forward.
“The wise organizers of this commemoration understood that a month later is precisely when the hardest emotional work begins,” she said. “We are here to strengthen broken hearts that they may beat again. We are here to acknowledge and to honor the incredible unity that’s been created in the wake of this tragedy. We are here to hold each other’s hands without the platitude that it will be alright, because it won’t. We cannot bring back the eleven precious souls who are no longer with us. We must name evil and dedicate ourselves to fight it.
“We are a week away from Chanukah,” Brown continued. “In the wake of this tragedy, let it be the most powerful, meaningful Chanukah of our lives. If you have never lit a menorah, I encourage you to do so this year — to move from the shiva candle to the Chanukah candles. With each night, with each candle, with each act of light, we tell the world that darkness has a cure. Be the light.”
Following the program, Mayor Bill Peduto reflected on the event.
“I am so proud and continue to be moved by Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, by the way they have responded to the worst anti-Semitic crime in American history,” he said. “By responding with love and compassion, it has shown people around the world the true image of Pittsburgh, and I was glad that I was able to be here to be able to see it done once again.”
Frederick Sims of Pittsburgh called the program “moving,” but said he was disappointed that the alleged shooter’s motivations were not addressed.
“They spoke about things you would expect,” said Sims, but the “anti-Semitism, that’s not the triggering event.” It was the attacker’s “rabid hatred of immigrants, and that was not mentioned once.”
Tricia Chirumbole, of Pittsburgh, however, said that she “felt very privileged to be here.”
Chirumbole, who is not Jewish, added she was “honored to be welcomed into the community. It’s been moving to be with people during this time.”
Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, where much of the initial response to the tragedy took place, said that “shloshim marks the beginning of a new reality.”
“You can’t really ever close mourning, but you can actually give people permission to go on with their lives,” she said. “And sometimes we underestimate the importance of that permission.”
Adam Reinherz is a staff writer with the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.