Each fall they will lose their needles and stand skeleton-like on Shady Avenue as passersby pray for warmer weather, but when spring comes the 11 Metasequoia glyptostroboides, whose origins date back to prehistoric days, will yield the shade, protection and memory their planters desired. That hope drew dozens to Pittsburgh Allderdice last week for a dirty and beautiful exercise rooted in memory and action.
Before donning gloves and heading to any of the 11 designated stations to dig holes, position trunks and refill the earth, dozens gathered as educators and community members framed Tuesday morning’s tree planting activity with a brief ceremony.
Alan Hausman, vice president of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, said that people have asked him whether he was surprised by the response Pittsburgh had to the shooting.
“And I kind of said, ‘No, I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my whole life and I know Pittsburghers. We all rally around each other, we support each other.’ Whether it’s violence at our facility, violence in the neighborhoods, violence wherever we see, we’re in solidarity with everyone, and this just is another example of the support that all Pittsburghers give to each other no matter what happens.”
Planting 11 trees will continue a school practice of benefiting others, explained principal James McCoy. “Since that tragedy occurred, I’ve seen so much strength in the community and our student body here at Allderdice and our families.” The tree planting, he added, “is not only going to make our campus more beautiful, but strengthen the character of our campus.”
Student athletes and activists dressed in school colors applauded the speakers’ remarks. (The green long-sleeved shirts decorated with a “Dice Stronger Than Hate” logo were sold in a fundraiser shortly after the attack.) Jake Milofsky of Tree Pittsburgh provided instructions on how to appropriately shovel, wrap burlap and pack the ground.
Emily Pressman, a high school senior, explained that she and boys basketball coach Buddy Valinsky partnered on bringing together interested students for the May 7 event. Working around “time gaps” was tricky because “we’re still supposed to be in school right now,” but they found a way to facilitate 30-minute periods for participants, she said.
Doing so was well worth it, noted the coach.
“I knew seven out of the 11 people killed,” said Valinsky. “This is the best project I’ve ever worked on.”
With shovel in hand, Pressman explained that the 11 deciduous trees encircling Allderdice’s front lawn will serve as both a memory of what happened and a call to action for future generations.
Pittsburgh Allderdice is a mile down the road from the Tree of Life building. Between the neighborhood’s closeness and countless activities following October 27, the teenagers have been impacted in myriad ways.
“A lot of times when there are tragic events, people in the moment are like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and then after that everything fizzles out,” said Marina Godley-Fisher, a high school senior who organized an earlier vigil. “These are going to stay here so that’s nice.”
The fact that the trees can grow 90 feet high and 25 feet wide represents something special to the students, said Sean Graves, a high school junior and member of the boys basketball team. He added that the community has supported them by coming to their games and “always making sure we’re looking good to travel around,” he said. “We wanted something to signify that our community cares, not just inside the school.”
Jackson Blaufeld, a high school senior and captain of the boys basketball team, said, “Ever since the tragedy happened, everyone’s been stepping up, and I’ve been really proud of our school because a lot of my friends like Emily Pressman over here and many other students have really stepped up into leadership roles and gotten other people to take action and that’s been special to see,” he said.
Moments after Blaufeld said that, a new crop of teenagers arrived. Valinsky and Isabella Angelelli, of area nonprofit One Tree Per Child Pittsburgh, migrated between the 11 stations and encouraged the young adults working across Allderdice’s sloped terrain.
Perched atop the hill, admiring the students’ efforts, were both survivors of the attack and loved ones of those who perished. Alan Mallinger (brother of Andrea Wedner and son of Rose Mallinger) stood within the group and held a plaque for future placement among the trees.
Engraved beneath the names of those Jews cut down on October 27 were the words, “As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us as we remember them.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.