Re-planting a Tree of Life: Pittsburgh’s Struggle Against Antisemitism

Makenna Kemper ‘22, Staff Writer


It was a crisp Saturday morning in Squirrel Hill the day that a gunman decided to walk in to Tree of Life Synagogue on Wilkins Avenue and open fire. At the time, the congregation was in the midst of a Shabbat service and a baby-naming ceremony. The massacre took the lives of 11 innocent people ranging from ages 54 through 97 years old and injured 6 others, 4 of which were Pittsburgh police officers. No one would ever think that such an awful event could occur in our city—our hometown.

Squirrel Hill is a quiet, yet bustling neighborhood tucked neatly between Shady Side, Greenfield, Point Breeze, and Oakland. Here, many things reside. The rivalry between Aiello’s and Mineo’s pizza, Pamela’s Diner, an old-fashioned restaurant where you are transported to a different era that makes anyone feel like they could stand up to twist and shout, Gaby et Jules with their delectable macarons, and many other things draw the Pittsburgh community in for fun weekends and memorable summer nights in Squirrel Hill. The neighborhood is still a lovely place, but this tragedy has marred its pleasant reputation. The shooting on October 27th, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is now marked as the worst Anti-Semitic attack in current U.S. history. Many people have asked themselves, “How could someone be so hateful that they would attempt to rip apart a community in such a terrible way?” Although this question is deeply troubling to Pittsburgh’s residents, the important thing to remember about the issue is that the shooter was not successful in his attempt to fracture the closeness of the city’s community, proving that we will not allow any acts of hatred in our home.

Pittsburgh is home to one of the most accepting figures to grace our television screens – Mr. Fred Rogers, of course. We are Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. We all love our neighbors, and when someone tries to hurt them, we do not hide. We become stronger and support each other. After such a senseless tragedy, people of all ages—old and young—joined together to show that hatred and prejudice truly cannot weaken a city of steel.

Just a week after such an awful event, I stood in Beth Shalom Synagogue, just a 3-minute drive from Tree of Life, with a “Stronger than Hate” shirt on, surrounded by teenagers of all faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It was an inter-faith Havdalah ceremony—the end of the Sabbath. We all joined hands, sung prayers, and listened to the stories from the amazing teens of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) Keystone Chapter. Of course we were all in a time of grieving, but, in that moment, many people realized it was also a time of hope for a more unified community against hatred. After such a senseless tragedy, nothing is more of a relief than crying into the shoulder of someone you do not even know and recognizing we are not in this alone.

Yes, Saturday, October 27th, 2018 will go down in history as the worst Anti-Semitic attack in current U.S. history. But, it will also go down as the day that all of Pittsburgh became one. The day that we all cried together. And for every day after that? Well, those are the days we slowly but surely rebuilt from this tragedy. The days we acknowledged community and love. The days of hope.