Makeshift memorials taken indoors
Saving historySorting, saving and composting are all part of the process

Makeshift memorials taken indoors

Volunteers and experts partner to preserve items brought to the Tree of Life building.

Since the Oct. 27 attack, a steady stream of flowers, cards, stones and signs have accumulated outside of the Tree of Life building. Photo by Adam Reinherz
Since the Oct. 27 attack, a steady stream of flowers, cards, stones and signs have accumulated outside of the Tree of Life building. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Volunteers from Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation, New Light Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash, the three synagogues targeted in the Oct. 27 anti-Semitic attack that claimed 11 lives in Pittsburgh, began deconstructing the makeshift memorials outside the building last week, 18 days after the tragedy.

Jay Aronson separates two flowers from the thousands which have accumulated on site.
Flowers were sorted for drying, composting and donating. Photo by Adam Reinherz

In the days and weeks following the attack, flowers, cards, stones and signs were placed in several spots near the property in memory of the congregants murdered inside.

Laurie Eisenberg (right) and Eric Lidji discuss the process of collecting, transporting and
preserving the various items. Photo by Adam Reinherz

On Nov. 14, volunteers were joined by experts in memorialization and archival preservation.

Dory Levine, a Tree of Life member, holds a painted rock before placing it in a bucket of
similarly marked stones. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Eric Lidji of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives, and Laurie Eisenberg and Jay Aronson (both of Carnegie Mellon University) helped separate stones, gather flowers and relocate items indoors for preservation and future reconstruction.

Eric Lidji removes stones placed above one of the makeshift memorials. Stones from each of
the 11 memorials were placed in correspondingly labeled plastic bags. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Initially, the materials will be erected and placed “inside the glass doors in the Tree of Life’s main sanctuary lobby, which was unaffected by the tragic events,” thus allowing public viewing without fear of vandalism or destruction due to inclement weather, according to the congregations.

Travis Leivo, of Shadyside Worms, places flowers inside the bed of a pickup truck. After the plastic wrappings are removed, the flowers will be composted in a process that should take 6-9 months. Upon completion, Leivo will return the compost to the site for future planting. “It should be ready by next spring,” he said. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Ultimately, the objects will be collected, cataloged and preserved in the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Susan Melnick, of Dor Hadash (left), and Barbara Caplan, of New Light, share a moment while separating flowers from glass near the corner of Wilkins Avenue and Murray Avenue. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Once completion at the Rauh, the items will be made available to researchers, historians and members of the public, according to the congregations. PJC

Suzanne Schreiber, a past president of Tree of Life, smooths stones inside the synagogue’s
space. Items were transported indoors and placed on butcher block paper in order to dry. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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