Songs In The Key Of Life And Death
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Songs In The Key Of Life And Death

The rhythms, both religious and musical, of a wrenching week in Squirrel Hill.

  • Joined in grief: Rabbis Jeffrey Myers, left, Cheryl Klein and Jonathan Perlman, the spiritual leaders of the three congregations housed at Tree of Life, at an interfaith vigil the day after the shootings. Getty Images
    Joined in grief: Rabbis Jeffrey Myers, left, Cheryl Klein and Jonathan Perlman, the spiritual leaders of the three congregations housed at Tree of Life, at an interfaith vigil the day after the shootings. Getty Images
  • Caskets of the Rosenthal Brothers, Cecil 59, and David, 54, are carried out of Rodef Shalom Temple Tuesday in Pittsburgh. They were killed in last Saturday’s rampage. Getty Images
    Caskets of the Rosenthal Brothers, Cecil 59, and David, 54, are carried out of Rodef Shalom Temple Tuesday in Pittsburgh. They were killed in last Saturday’s rampage. Getty Images
  • Men greet each other outside the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall before a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. Getty Images
    Men greet each other outside the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall before a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. Getty Images
  • A makeshift memorial near Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this week. Getty Images
    A makeshift memorial near Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this week. Getty Images
  • Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, from the Tree of Life synagogue, speaks during a vigil, to remember the victims of the shooting at his synagogue the day before, at the Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. - A man suspected of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue during a baby-naming ceremony and gunning down 11 people has been charged with murder, in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history. The suspect -- identified as a 46-year-old Robert Bowers -- reportedly yelled "All Jews must die" as he sprayed bullets into the Tree of Life synagogue during Sabbath services on Saturday before exchanging fire with police, in an attack that also wounded six people. Getty Images
    Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, from the Tree of Life synagogue, speaks during a vigil, to remember the victims of the shooting at his synagogue the day before, at the Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. - A man suspected of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue during a baby-naming ceremony and gunning down 11 people has been charged with murder, in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history. The suspect -- identified as a 46-year-old Robert Bowers -- reportedly yelled "All Jews must die" as he sprayed bullets into the Tree of Life synagogue during Sabbath services on Saturday before exchanging fire with police, in an attack that also wounded six people. Getty Images
  • People listen to interfaith speakers at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall during a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. Getty Images
    People listen to interfaith speakers at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall during a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. Getty Images
  • A Jewish emergency crew and police officers at the site of the mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 28, 2018. (JTA)
    A Jewish emergency crew and police officers at the site of the mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 28, 2018. (JTA)
  • People stand in front of a memorial on October 28, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27.  Getty Images
    People stand in front of a memorial on October 28, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27. Getty Images
  • Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, speaking at a vigil in Pittsburgh Sunday night. His trip to the U.S. was criticized in some quarters.
Getty Images
    Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, speaking at a vigil in Pittsburgh Sunday night. His trip to the U.S. was criticized in some quarters. Getty Images
  • Tammy Hepps, Kate Rothstein and her daughter, Simone Rothstein, 16, pray from a prayerbook a block away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Getty Images
    Tammy Hepps, Kate Rothstein and her daughter, Simone Rothstein, 16, pray from a prayerbook a block away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Getty Images
  • PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: People listen to interfaith speakers at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall before a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
    PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: People listen to interfaith speakers at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall before a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
  • A woman holds a candle during a vigil in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018, to remember those that died in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting earlier in the day. - The gunman who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh will face federal charges that carry the death penalty, the US Justice Department said. Getty Images
    A woman holds a candle during a vigil in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018, to remember those that died in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting earlier in the day. - The gunman who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh will face federal charges that carry the death penalty, the US Justice Department said. Getty Images
  • The police presence was heavy this week in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh this week. Getty Images
    The police presence was heavy this week in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh this week. Getty Images
  • The names of the victims are displayed at a memorial on October 28, 2018 outside the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in Pittsburgh on October 27.  Getty Images
    The names of the victims are displayed at a memorial on October 28, 2018 outside the Tree of Life synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in Pittsburgh on October 27. Getty Images
  • PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: People listen to interfaith speakers at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall before a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
    PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: People listen to interfaith speakers at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall before a service to honor and mourn the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed and six more were wounded in the mass shooting that police say was fueled by antisemitism. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
  • At a vigil ceremony in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, October 27, 2018. Courtesy of Jim Busis
    At a vigil ceremony in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, October 27, 2018. Courtesy of Jim Busis
  • Matthew Chinman, 49, of Squirrel Hill, hugs a fellow community member during a vigil held to remember those who died earlier in the day during a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018. Getty Images
    Matthew Chinman, 49, of Squirrel Hill, hugs a fellow community member during a vigil held to remember those who died earlier in the day during a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018. Getty Images
  • US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, alongside Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, place stones and flowers on a memorial as they pay their respects at the Tree of Life Synagogue following last weekend's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 30, 2018. Getty Images
    US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, alongside Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, place stones and flowers on a memorial as they pay their respects at the Tree of Life Synagogue following last weekend's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 30, 2018. Getty Images
  • Police block a road near the Tree of Life Synagogue, after a gunman opened fire inside at Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018. - A synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh is "likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States," an American civil rights group. (Photo by Dustin Franz / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DUSTIN FRANZ/AFP/Getty Images)
    Police block a road near the Tree of Life Synagogue, after a gunman opened fire inside at Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2018. - A synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh is "likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States," an American civil rights group. (Photo by Dustin Franz / AFP) (Photo credit should read DUSTIN FRANZ/AFP/Getty Images)
  • PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27:  A woman watches the activity a block away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
    PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: A woman watches the activity a block away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

It turned into a sadly repetitive routine. Drive to the site of the funeral — a synagogue, the JCC, the funeral home — about an hour early to find parking. Park anywhere; the police were too busy to worry about parking tickets. Dash between TV crews and photographers stationed at a tactful distance across the street to capture images of the grief. Find a seat inside, if you can.

This was the schedule for much of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community as well as for this reporter last week as nine families buried their loved ones, the 11 victims of the Tree of Life shooting. Among the dead were two brothers with developmental disabilities known to some as the community’s “gentle giants,” and to others as the mayors of Squirrel Hill; a couple, remembered for doing everything together, who died in each other’s arms in the very synagogue in which they were married more than 50 years ago; a doctor who treated every patient with dignity at the height of the AIDS epidemic, who died trying to heal the wounded one last time. “We lost more than a minyan yesterday,” said Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of Pittsburgh’s federation, at the Oct. 28 interfaith vigil a day after the horror. “We lost 11 of our neighbors,” said Mayor Bill Peduto, echoing the themes of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” the legendary children’s TV show hosted by Squirrel Hill resident Fred Rogers.

Carried out early in the morning when few people had arrived for the 9:45 services, the Oct. 27 massacre struck at the community’s foundations — the members who made up the minyan and led the services, the ones who came early to set up the kiddush and stayed late to clean up. In conversations around Squirrel Hill, residents spoke of how lucky they were that the gunman arrived so early, when so few people had gotten to shul. Others wondered why the gunman had chosen Tree of Life rather than one of the many other synagogues located within a few blocks of the building. “He must have driven past here on his way there,” said one person standing in the lobby of a nearby synagogue. “Why them?”

Joined in grief: Rabbis Jeffrey Myers, left, Cheryl Klein and Jonathan Perlman, the spiritual leaders of the three congregations housed at Tree of Life, at an interfaith vigil the day after the shootings. Getty Images

Even in the airport on my way to Pittsburgh the day after the attack, the city’s residents waiting to return home could be seen trying to make sense of the tragedy. “People give directions based on the synagogues,” said Max Gelernter, a 26-year-old who was bar mitzvahed at Pittsburgh’s Temple Israel. “Every block basically has one.”

Throughout the week, members of Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash — the three synagogues housed under one roof — assembled at Congregation Beth Shalom for morning and evening services while their synagogue remained closed, a crime scene. They recited Psalms and the Mourner’s Kaddish. Between vigils, protests, funerals and shivas last week, they shopped for groceries at Giant Eagle, stopped into Milky Way for a kosher slice of pizza and went to daily services at a greater frequency than usual. Murray Avenue Kosher Market hurried to fill orders of kugel and potato salad for shiva meals, often refusing to accept payment. The Judaica store in Squirrel Hill remained closed on Monday. “Because yesterday,” a sign on the door read. A bouquet of flowers was wedged in the door handle.

While the community focused on mourning and burying the dead and keeping up some semblance of normality for the children, the national media descended on Squirrel Hill. “You’re not going to ask me about Trump?” asked one woman I spoke to in surprise. It seemed every other reporter had.

Police tape seals the perimeter of the Tree of Life synagogue after the shooting massacre on October 27. Getty Images

Reporters trekked up and down the hill that is Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill’s main commercial drag, filming residents for their newscasts. They interspersed those clips with shots of Tree of Life and its impressive stained-glass windows, filmed with cameras set up in tents across the street. When President Trump arrived on Tuesday, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life graciously welcomed him and accepted his sympathies. As the motorcade passed a large protest march, protesters turned their backs to the president. Protesters, mourners, rabbis and reporters struggled to define the story of the killings, the politics and the response.

Punctuating every day of funerals was the voice of Rabbi Myers (whom one speaker deemed “America’s rabbi” at one funeral), chanting Psalm 23 at the funerals of seven of his murdered congregants. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” he read at Sunday’s vigil. “Well, God,” he said with the bite of a sermonizing rabbi, “I want.”

Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, from the Tree of Life synagogue, speaks during a vigil, to remember the victims of the shooting at his synagogue the day before, at the Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial on October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Getty Images

Other songs, like Hezekiah Walker’s “I Need You to Survive,” could be heard that week. “I pray for you, you pray for me / I need you, I need you to survive,” sang the Rodman Street Baptist Missionary Church choir at the Oct. 28 vigil. The choir sang the same song at an interfaith prayer service a few days later, where the choir was joined by members of New Light. President Reuven Rivlin of Israel led vigil-goers, via video, in reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish. WQED, Pittsburgh’s classical music radio station, played Jewish-themed music by Ernst Bloch and Leonard Bernstein. Protesters sang a song of peace and resistance, “Olam Chesed Yi’Baneh,” “We Will Build this World with Love.”

At the last funeral I attended, for Sylvan and Bernice Simon, Rabbi Myers sang the by-then familiar and haunting tune for Psalm 23. Then he called up the other Tree of Life congregants to join him at the front of the hall. Sylvan Simon, the rabbi said, loved to sing the song “L’Dor Vador,” meaning “from generation to generation.” The congregation led the rest of us in a rendition of the call-and-response song. “From generation to generation we will sing Your praises. Forever and ever we will sanctify Your holiness.” 

Emotional Interfaith Tribute Helps Pittsburgh Heal

New Light Congregation and Rodman Street Baptist Church joined together for an emotional reunion following the shooting last shabbat at Tree of Life Synagogue where the New Light congregation worships. The two communities have been meeting regulalry for interfaith programs over the last five years. More on the story here: https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/church-synagogue-pray-together-for-healing-and-reconciliation/

Posted by The Jewish Week on Friday, 2 November 2018

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