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Story Publication logo October 29, 2019

How to Reflect and Remember Tree of Life This Weekend

Chaplain Bob Ossler of Cape Coral FL comforts members of the community outside of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Image by Brendt A Petersen / United States, 2018.

In the aftermath of the worst anti-Semitic slaughter in United States history, the neighborhood of...

A makeshift shrine to the victims of Saturday's deadly shooting outside of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Image by Brendt A Petersen / United States, 2018.
A makeshift shrine to the victims of Saturday's deadly shooting outside of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Image by Brendt A Petersen / United States, 2018.

Listen to the full radio story here.  

On today's program: Two journalists reflect on covering Pittsburgh's Jewish community; some Tree of Life members are at odds with seeking the death penalty against the alleged gunman; police are still grappling with the trauma of responding to the scene of the attack; how a graphic design inspired unity in the city; and mourners organize events to bring members of the community back together. 

Covering Pittsburgh's Jewish community as a member of the same faith
(00:00 — 16:10) 

In the year since the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue that killed 11 congregants, the Jewish community and the city of Pittsburgh as a whole have been trying to heal. 

"People have reacted very differently," says Jim Busis, publisher of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. "Some people … it's part of their mental state every day, and some people are certainly remembering but more ready to move on."  

Mark Oppenheimer hosts the Jewish-centered podcast "Unorthodox" in New York, and he's made more than two dozen trips to Pittsburgh to report on the recovery by the Squirrel Hill community. 

Oppenheimer says that as the tradition of a year of mourning comes to an end, there are more stories to be told, including what ultimately becomes of the building.  Leaders this week indicated that their congregations will return to the site, but plans are not clear whether the synagogue will be renovated or razed and replaced with a new building.

Busis said that he hopes people will feel a sense of transition after this weekend or in a couple of weeks when the one year mark comes on the Hebrew calendar. "A lot of people have remained touched and connected this entire year."

Some members of Tree of Life disagree with the death penalty
(17:31 — 22:13)

Federal prosecutors announced in August that they will pursue the death penalty against the man accused of carrying out the attack. They argued in a court filing that one reason was that it stemmed from the defendant's hatred for Jews. 

90.5 WESA's An-Li Herring reports that some members of the congregation worry that a trial would be painful for victims and force them to endure years of appeals. Leaders and members of two of the three congregations that were housed at Tree of Life also asked the attorney general not to seek the death penalty

Victims of the attack on Tree of Life will have the opportunity to share their views on the death penalty during sentencing if Bowers is found guilty. A jury would decide whether to sentence him to death. No trial date has been set.

Police lean on each other for support
(22:18 — 26:49)

Police officers and first responders are often confronted with difficult scenes in their day-to-day working lives, but the scene of a mass shooting isn't typical. As the officers that responded to the Tree of Life attack approach one year since the day, the Pittsburgh Police department is offering its officers resources to take care of themselves as they continue to heal.  

90.5 WESA's Margaret J. Krauss reports a peer-to-peer support program is being used by the department to help officers cope with the healing process. She spoke with Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Sergeant Carla Kearns, the coordinator of the department's Member Assistance Program.

Designer blended steel and faith to show Pittsburgh is 'Stronger Than Hate' 
(26:50 — 34:02)

Painful memories still linger from the aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting, but what also remains is a symbol. Tim Hindes, CEO of TrailBlaze Creative, is the graphic designer behind an image now synonymous with the community coming together to support each other after the attack. Hindes says the design — a take on the Steelers logo that includes a Star of David and the words "Stronger Than Hate"— took him just minutes to create not long after the news broke about the attack. 

He says he got a surprise call from legal representatives of the Steelers not long after the image began making the rounds on social media. But, the team wanted to help Hindes. They offered to help him market the image to benefit the victims of the attack. 

Hindes says partnering with the Steelers has ensured that proceeds related to his image aren't being scooped up by opportunists. The Steelers and Hindes presented the Jewish Federation with a check for $70,000 at the end of the team's previous season. 

Unifying events to be held throughout the weekend
(34:12 — 38:16) 

Groups will gather this weekend to remember the victims of the Tree of Life shooting one year after their deaths. Victims' families have asked the community to reserve Sunday as a day of community togetherness and healing and not for any political acts or protests. 

90.5 WESA's Kathleen Davis reports a community gathering will take place from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. This event is expected to have music, readings and prayer, and will be projected on screens outside the memorial if indoor seating is full.

Mental health counseling will be available at the following locations:

  • Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Rodef Shalom Congregation: 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall: 5 to 6 p.m.


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