Members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, including survivors and family members of the 11 victims from the Oct. 27 attack at the Tree of Life building, traveled to Harrisburg last week for a rare joint legislative session. State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, was among those to address the joint session. He described how Squirrel Hill is not only the neighborhood he represents, but his childhood home.
“I learned to ride my bike on Fernwald Road and can still tell you where the good sledding hills are,” he said. “Because the neighborhood is densely populated and largely walkable, people know each other. When the weather is nice, there is a rich social life on the porches and sidewalks as people chitchat and watch children play.”
Many people learned about Squirrel Hill only after Oct. 27, he said, but its way of life, and the memory of those lost on that day, must not be forgotten.
During his 15-minute address, Frankel decried the rising threat of hate speech and warned that “repeated often enough, ignored often enough and rationalized often enough, these words create an environment in which atrocities are possible, maybe even inevitable. This phenomenon has cost us dearly in my community.”
Frankel introduced a resolution to establish April 10 as “Stronger Than Hate Day,” a day to “honor the individuals who lost their lives, the first responders and others affected by the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence on U.S. soil.” Members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate voted unanimously to enact the resolution.
“The respect that Rep. Frankel and the leadership in the Pennsylvania House and Senate showed meant so much to the victims’ families and helped with our healing process,” said Michele Rosenthal, sister of Cecil and David Rosenthal.
“It was nice and great to be appreciated and recognized in the way they did,” echoed Barry Werber, a survivor of the attack.
Joshua Sayles, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, was among those who traveled by bus from Pittsburgh to attend the event. He praised Rep. Frankel and House Speaker Mike Turzai “for making this happen.”
“Everybody in leadership understands how devastating this is to our community,” added Sayles.
“We have not had a joint session of this kind since September 25, 2001, to remember the tragedy of 9/11 in our country. That is the gravity with which we are treating what happened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018,” said Turzai.
Jeffrey Finkelstein, Federation’s president and CEO, described the scene in an email as “so memorable. All the commonwealth’s leadership was in the room. They heard Rabbi Jonathan Perlman from New Light Congregation open the session with an invocation and Rabbi Cheryl Klein from Dor Hadash close with a benediction. Both Representative Dan Frankel and Senator Jay Costa addressed all of us, speaking emotionally from deep in their hearts about what happened in their neighborhood to their neighbors.”
“I’m the kind of person who when a couple is getting married and the bride is walking down the aisle, I look at the groom to see his face. I was looking at the faces of the legislators to see how they were reacting. No one was on their phone. No one was distracted. It was so powerful what was being said,” recalled Meryl Ainsman, Federation board chair.
“To see a group that does not normally convene together and agree on stuff to unite the commonwealth on something that everyone should agree on meant a lot,” said Rosenthal. “This journey is not an easy one, and to remember our loved ones and honor their memory meant so much to myself and I believe the other families,” she added. “None of us know where this journey is going to take us, but it’s important to carry on. Every person’s loved one means something special for them, and this trip to Harrisburg and the opportunity with Rep. Frankel was just so respectful, and the love and support from the people we met is what means a lot, that’s what is getting us through this.”
While standing before legislators and public officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Frankel memorialized the victims of the terror attack: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Mel Wax and Irv Younger.
That act of keeping their memories alive was greatly appreciated, noted Rosenthal.
“Losing my brothers, there are no words. I continue to say you are part of a club that no one should be part of. The 11 families who unfortunately have been brought together, I think that all of us, we don’t want our loved ones to be forgotten.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.