Members of New Light Congregation enjoyed a Shabbat of solidarity last week as well-wishers presented cranes and pies in support of the congregation. Following services on Friday evening, Feb. 8, 1,000 boldly colored and folded paper cranes — all attached together — were given to the congregation by the city’s Japanese community in remembrance of Dan Stein, Rich Gottfried and Melvin Wax, three of the 11 victims of the Oct. 27 attack at the Tree of Life synagogue building.
“The Japanese community presents 1,000 cranes to the New Light Congregation in memory of the victims of the October 2018 tragedy and our wish for hope, healing and peace for you and the Jewish community of Pittsburgh,” read an accompanying note. “In Japanese culture, it is believed that if one folds 1,000 origami cranes, or senbazuru, one’s wish can come true.”
Both the gesture and the gift were overwhelming, said congregants.
“They are beautiful. They are every color of the rainbow,” said Barry Werber, a survivor of the Oct. 27 shooting.
Barbara Caplan, co-president of the congregation, agreed. While admiring the stringed creation, she pondered how many hours were spent on the endeavor.
Online instructions for creating a single origami crane range in both the number of steps and the moments required, but a simple calculation suggests that if one crane takes one minute to construct, then 1,000 cranes would take 1,000 minutes or 16.67 hours (assuming everything remains constant throughout). The fact that folders could possibly spend such time on the project is incredible, noted Caplan.
Members of the Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania, the Japanese Nationality Room Committee, the Japan Association of Greater Pittsburgh, the Asian Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Pitt’s Japanese Student Association, the Japanese class at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Japanese Community Outreach at Shadyside Family Health Center, the
West Virginia Japanese Community, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc., Chaya Japanese Cuisine and “other anonymous folders” jointly prepared the cranes “in solidarity and hope,”
read the note.
“There is a lot of love out there, a lot of respect for what we went through, and a lot of prayers that we should recover,” said Werber.
Among those wishing the congregation well last Shabbat were Rose McGee and Wendy Goldberg. McGee is founder of Sweet Potato Comfort Pies and a Minnesota resident who is nationally known for bringing pies to those affected by tragedy. In 2014, after Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old unarmed black man was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., McGee baked 30 sweet potato pies, loaded them into her car and drove to Ferguson, where she dispersed the comfort cuisine. In 2015, after nine people were killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., McGee baked more pies, filled her car and drove again. The following year, she told the Star Tribune, making the pies “has a whole other purpose for me.”
So too, again, last week, she and representatives of Heilicher Jewish Day School in Minneapolis partnered on making kosher pies for those in Pittsburgh.
“To do this four months after the big terrible event is to say that grief didn’t finish when the news crews left in November. Grief continues and will continue,” Goldberg, Heilicher’s assistant director of Jewish life, told CCX Media before heading to Pittsburgh with McGee.
Throughout Shabbat, the two women dispersed the pies to the congregations who suffered losses on Oct. 27 and to family members of the deceased. On Saturday morning, after services, New Light members enjoyed the fruit of the Minnesotans’ labor.
Though not typically a fan of sweet potatoes, Werber was impressed.
“They tasted like a combination of apple and pancake,” he said.
Amplifying the flavor was a bit of nostalgia, he added. “My dad was a baker for 65 years both in Europe and in this country. My grandfather worked alongside my father at United Baking Company in the South Side. My grandfather’s sister started Filner’s bakery. They were up on the Hill, and I would go there almost every weekend to spend time with my cousins.”
As a child, Werber would run around stealing donuts while family members followed in pursuit, he recalled. “Baking has always been in my life. … I have yeast going through my veins.”
Between the pies, cranes and countless other gifts and gestures, individuals from across the world have generously supported Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. “At New Light, we have had people from outside the congregation come serve as volunteer readers of the Torah and haftarah, or just come and show their love for our congregation,” said Werber.
When it comes to the pies, though, that was something sweet, he added.
Looking back on the weekend, perhaps most surprising about the pies is the effect they had, explained Caplan.
Though they were served during kiddush — a time for socializing — the setting was rather silent. Instead of schmoozing, the attendees were eating. It was quite a scene, said Caplan. “How many times do you get Jews in a room and they are quiet?” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com