Initial plans have been announced for a day of activities marking the one-year commemoration of the Oct. 27 massacre at Tree of Life building, the most violent anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
Emblematic of the tenor of the day’s activities, to be held on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, is a new logo with the words “Remember,” “Repair” and “Together.”
Programming will focus on honoring the victims, families and survivors affected by the mass shooting, which took the lives of 11 congregants of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light, and Dor Hadash congregations. The day will include speakers, Torah study, and a host of volunteer opportunities. A public memorial service to remember those murdered will be held at 5:00 p.m. at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.
The events are being planned by a commemoration committee comprised of representatives of the 11 victims’ families; the three congregations in the building at the time of the attack; the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh; the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh; Jewish Family & Community Services of Pittsburgh; and the Center for Victims. Other representatives included the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety, the director of the Pittsburgh resiliency center, and other advisors.
“On October 27, 2019, we will commemorate one year since the attack with public events to honor the memories of the deceased and those most closely impacted,” said Rabbi Amy Bardack, planning committee chair and director of Jewish life and learning at the Federation. “The theme encompasses three elements. ‘Remember’ means recalling the lives that we lost and remembering the attack so that we can prevent future attacks. ‘Repair’ means both repairing emotional wounds in the community and repairing our sense of brokenness in ourselves and in the world. ‘Together’ means that we were heartened by the support we felt from the city, county, many different faith communities and diverse communities, and all over the world. ‘Together’ also means that we are not in this alone.”
Schedules for the events are still in the planning stage and will be available on the official website, www.pittsburghoct27.org.
“There are already over 30 community service sites that will be available,” noted Adam Hertzman, director of marketing for the Federation. “There will be a variety of different types of organizations throughout the city. We are conscious of the fact that the October 27 attacks affected not only the Jewish community, but really all of Pittsburgh, and that many different people of all faiths and diverse communities will potentially want to volunteer.”
The commemoration planning committee evolved from “the same committee that has been meeting almost from the beginning to coordinate help for the victims’ families and people with psychological trauma,” Hertzman explained.
The victims’ families have requested that the day be “non-political,” according to Hertzman, allowing the focus of the commemoration to be “on the lives we lost and the needs of the victims. We are hoping that the people who have political interests don’t choose to demonstrate or show their political leanings on that particular day.”
The day will provide an opportunity “for the community to come together,” said Barb Feige, executive director of TOL*OLS. “Not one entity owns the event– it happened to all of us. I think the lovely opportunities for both Torah study and volunteerism are particularly meaningful and a reflection of the dedication and the personalities of those we lost.”
The commemoration’s motto—“Remember,” “Repair” and “Together”—captures the essence of the overarching aims of the day, according to Ellen Surloff, immediate past president of Dor Hadash.
“We want to remember those of all three congregations who lost their lives on Oct. 27 and we want to honor them,” she said. “There will be opportunities to do service projects that day which will honor their memories. There will be opportunities for Torah study that day, and that will also honor their memories.
“The ‘repair’ is we are all going to be together, and we will be doing projects,” she continued. “’Together’ is just seeing the whole community come together and show support just like they did in the immediate aftermath. It’s really an opportunity to reflect on the people whose lives were lost, reflect on the last year and the impact it’s had on everyone, the survivors, the community, the greater Jewish community, the Jewish community in the world at large.”
Although there will be some events “that will be unique to the survivor group or unique to the three congregations,” public events have been scheduled “because just as the entire community, Jewish and non-Jewish, helped us to heal, they can help us to remember and honor on the one-year anniversary.”
While the programming for the day is designed to help the community remember and to heal, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, spiritual leader of New Light and a member of the commemoration committee, is approaching the day of commemoration events with some apprehension.
“I’m a little skeptical,” he said. “There are people on the committee that expect a media spectacle, they expect a great deal of attention, Pittsburghers and people coming from elsewhere. And they say this is based on the evidence they have from other sites of tragedy, like in Parkland, or Colorado, Columbine, for the one-year anniversaries and other anniversaries. They said the same thing is going to happen here.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The thing is that I really feel that all the love and the hugging and the memorials and the goodness came out around the first two or three months of the killing. Pittsburghers really showed themselves, and showed themselves well. I don’t really see them coming back to say, ‘We need to do our own memorialization’ and turn this into a holiday where we return to the scene of the crime or go back and have another vigil with the same numbers.”
The “mood” for Perlman, is that “it is over,” he said.
“We all have our souvenirs and our t-shirts and bumper stickers and it’s not going to be in the same numbers as it was last year. And we are planning for a great number of people to come out. We are reserving Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, expecting we are going to get the same numbers.
“I’m the skeptical one on the committee,” he said. “Everyone else seems to be very enthusiastic. What I don’t want to happen is that the people feel the pressure to go to all these activities and then be re-traumatized about what happened. I want them to feel positive about going forward.”
Still, Perlman praised the “creativity” of the planning committee, organizing a variety of volunteer opportunities, Torah study, and being mindful of the needs of the victims’ families.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org