Private party pairs first responders and families
Saying ThanksCasual Night of Appreciation

Private party pairs first responders and families

Survivors and loved ones of the Tree of Life shooting shared pizza, beer and an evening of thanks with first responders.

Pittsburgh Police officer Mike Smidga, left, was one of the first to respond to the Oct. 27 Tree of Life shootings. Barry Werber is a Tree of Life survivor. Photo courtesy of Barry Werber
Pittsburgh Police officer Mike Smidga, left, was one of the first to respond to the Oct. 27 Tree of Life shootings. Barry Werber is a Tree of Life survivor. Photo courtesy of Barry Werber

Many of those at Stage AE last week had seen each other once before. This time, however, there was a chance to say thank you.

Four months after the horrific murders of 11 worshippers inside the Tree of Life synagogue building, Pittsburgh area police, fire, rescue, EMS, medical professionals and members of the Jewish burial societies gathered with representatives from Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha congregations for a night of enjoying each other’s company.

Between the surplus of food and amplified acoustics, the private party, which was emceed by Jim Krenn and featured performances from Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers and Scott Blasey of the Clarks, was a chance to demonstrate appreciation, said Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “Purely and simply, it’s about thanking our first responders, all categories, who worked to save our people.”

Oct. 27 will forever be remembered, said Meryl Ainsman, Federation’s board chair.

“As opposed to other crucial moments in Jewish history when no one has been there for us, this time the police ran toward danger,” she noted.

Attendees at the Federation-hosted function included survivors of the Tree of Life attack, family members of the victims and loved ones of the first responders. Some within the capacious setting wore Stronger Than Hate T-shirts. With pizza and beer being the primary offerings, the evening presented a relaxed and fraternal vibe.

Brad Orsini, Federation’s director of security, who prior to joining the Jewish umbrella organization spent 28 years at the FBI, mingled with first responders throughout the event, as did Rabbi Elisar Admon, who with Rabbi Daniel Wasserman and others guided Pittsburgh’s Jewish burial societies through the process of cleaning the Tree of Life building and ensuring proper burials according to Jewish law. Admon and Orsini, like many throughout the Steel City, worked intensely in the days and weeks following Oct. 27.

Having the chance to reconnect with those who shared similar experiences was meaningful, said Admon.

“It’s a privilege to be part of this team. It’s an unbelievable team because all of these people had one mission — to save lives — and their motivation is unbelievable,” he said.

Audrey Glickman, left, and Joe Charny, Tree of Life members, were among those in attendance at the Feb. 27 event. Photo by Adam Reinherz

By evening’s end, after hugs and photographs, the venue began to empty. Headed toward the exit, already bundled and ready to brave the wintery air were Audrey Glickman and Joe Charny.

“We got to talk to each other and say thanks and get to see that we’re all just people who were thrown into this horrible situation,” said Glickman. “It was so wonderful to meet these guys and to reaffirm our initial impressions of the cooperation between the different departments and municipalities who came together and acted so efficiently.”

“It was really great to get to know the people who saved our lives and meet their families. That was the highlight for me,” added Charny, a Tree of Life member since 1955.

“We got to meet their wives,” offered Glickman, “who suffer more than they do.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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