FEDTalks returns to the 2019 Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s annual meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5, at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. This year’s theme, “Celebrating Community Strength,” will have special significance, occurring only a little more than a month before the one-year commemoration of the Oct. 27 massacre at the Tree of Life building.
The format once again resembles the familiar TED Talks, during which experts address topics including science, technology and culture through storytelling in brief talks from the TED stage. As part of their annual meeting, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh will welcome three experts whom they are billing as “healers working locally, nationally and worldwide.”
Jonathan Weinkle is a doctor at the Squirrel Hill Health Center. According to Adam Hertzman, Federation’s director of marketing, Weinkle “went into the medical field with the idea of bringing some of the ‘Jewish’ into medicine.” He’ll discuss his book, “Healing People, Not Patients” and his goal of having doctors listen in an active way. Hertzman pointed out that Weinkle works with immigrants from countries including Bhutan and Nepal. “He’ll talk about the October 27 attacks and some of the things we can learn from his patients who are immigrants coming from war zones and how they can inform the way we think about healing.”
Rabbi Shira Stern is the consulting editor of “Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides” and a disaster spiritual care provider for the American Red Cross. She also serves as the director of the Center for Pastoral Care and Counseling in New Jersey. Stern will share insights about helping people access their own spiritual resources.
Of particular interest to Pittsburgh will be Dr. James Young. Hertzman calls Young “the world’s premier expert on the memorialization of mass casualty events.” As he explains it, “While doing his Ph.D. studies, Young was at Auschwitz, in the library and takes a break, he went outside, and saw people walking around with strollers and eating food they bought from vendors and he said to himself, ‘What is going on, this is Auschwitz?’”
This realization started Young on a path that would lead him to develop the language used to discuss not only the biggest mass casualty in human history but also “how what we do today in our current cultural context informs the way we discuss, present and memorialize the Holocaust.”
Hertzman continues with Young’s story, “Fast forward to the ’90s. He’s had a successful career at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; he led the Jewish studies department there. He’s getting ready to retire and gets a rash of calls from organizations, governments and places about the topic he’s been thinking about for the past 30 years.”
In 1997, Young was appointed to the five-member jury for Germany’s national “Memorial to Europe’s Murdered Jews” in Berlin and was a member of the jury for the National 9/11 Memorial. It was this work that led Federation to ask Young to speak at their Annual Meeting. Hertzman explains, “we called the 9/11 Memorial and they said, you don’t want us, you want James Young. Once I started to understand his background it blew my mind.”
Young said that he asked himself “why me?” when he received Federation’s call. His answer was that Pittsburgh has “questions in the back of their mind about commemorating the attack on the Tree of Life. There’s been a year of quiet mourning and now they want some context. In my work over the years I’ve consulted on several memorial processes including the 9/11 Memorial in New York, working with the Norwegians on the July 22 memorial process, Argentina’s memorial to the desaparacidos. I was on the jury in Berlin and have written several books on Holocaust memorials.”
“One question,” Young said Pittsburgh will need to ask as it moves forward is if the Tree of Life shooting “is part of the anti-
immigrant, anti-Semitic, white nationalistic violence” experienced throughout the world.
He believes it’s important when thinking how to memorialize tragedies like the Tree of Life massacre to “remember the lives that were lost instead of simply the destruction alone.”
No matter how many times a mass casualty event takes place, Young explains each community must discover its own way to memorialize the tragedy. “There aren’t many examples of how to commemorate the loss. We don’t have a tradition to memorialize this type of loss.” Each community, he concludes, “will have to work to figure out how to commemorate the loss for future generations.”
Community leaders will also be recognized at the annual meeting, including Farrell Rubenstien, the recipient of the 2019 Emanuel Spector Memorial Award and Daniel Marcus, recipient of the 2019 Doris & Leonard H. Rudolph Jewish Communal Professional Award.
Hertzman believes this year’s annual meeting will be an insightful event for the community. “Last year, I was excited because it was the first year of doing FEDTalks. I’m much more excited this year because the topics and speakers are so compelling given what we’re thinking about now. It’s extremely topical.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at drullo@