Pain of Tree of Life shooting returns to survivors in wake of October 7 attack on Israel

Survivors of Oct. 27, 2018, attack in Pittsburgh, the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history, say it has connected them even more to Israel since Hamas massacre. A special video clip produced by the Ruderman Family Foundation returns to that awful day in Pittsburgh: 'No one is immune against antisemitism'

Survivors of Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting attack share their memories
(Video: Ruderman Family Foundation)

It has been five years have passed since a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill and murdered 11 people in cold blood during Shabbat prayer, simply because they were Jewish. The Jewish community in Pittsburgh remains traumatized by the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.
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Today, in the shadow of the war in Israel, it is even more frightening to identify as a Jew in the United States. Since October 7, the cases of antisemitism and hatred toward Jews in the U.S. have increased by 360%, and there is a fear that the next mass murder of Jews could take place in another U.S. city.
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תמונות השנה של EPA
תמונות השנה של EPA
Congregants mourn outside of the Tree of Life Synagogue in the wake of the attack
(Photo: EPA)
The Oct. 27, 2018, attack in Pittsburgh claimed the lives of 11 worshippers from three congregations meeting at the synagogue – Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life. The gunman, Robert Bowers, was sentenced to death by a unanimous federal jury in August.
In recent interviews held with survivors of the attack on the Tree of Life conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation, they discuss the pain they experienced five years ago, and how it came back to them as they began to hear the news about the October 7 Hamas massacre in southern Israel. Many of the survivors particularly remembered the support they received from the Israeli government and Israeli society after the terrible massacre that they experienced at Tree of Life.
"On October 7, when Israel was attacked, I had a range of emotions," said Deane Root, who was attending services at Tree of Life on the day of the massacre there. He says that the Jews in Pittsburgh "feel as if we can reach out and almost touch and give comfort and care and love" to the Israelis suffering since the Hamas massacre.
It was important to Root to "see the love, support, and solidarity with Israel. You know, we live our lives here in this little corner of the world And yet, worldwide, we were united."
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A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018
A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018
A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018
(Photo: AP)
On October 7, says Andrea Mallinger, whose mother-in-law Rose was killed in the Tree of Life: "Not only I was feeling it for Israel, but I was also feeling it for October 27. I feel more of a connection now with Israel and I feel for them greatly."
Israelis "need to know that we support them from here and what's happening now with their loved ones," says Michele Rosenthal, whose two brothers were killed at the synagogue.
Andrea Wedner described the attack on October 27: "When he (the shooter) came back in, that's when we got shot. I just lay there and I did not move because I did not want him to know I was alive. I thought it was going to die. I was telling my mother to be quiet on the floor. She was right next to me. We were head to head."
"I felt for her pulse, which was very faint. So I knew she was gone," she said.
The videotaped interviews were undertaken as part of the Ruderman Family Foundation's work in strengthening the connection between American Jewry and Israel, and as part of the effort to perpetuate the memory of Jews who were murdered in the Diaspora due to their Jewishness, and to raise awareness of the issue among Israelis and the Jewish community.
"That an event like this that happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh is evidence of the antisemitism that is still present in society and should wake up the world around us to this," said Shira Ruderman, CEO of the Ruderman Family Foundation. The current period, she said, "proves that the abyss has deepened and Jews are still in danger in many places in the world. Despite the challenges and antisemitism that have become more and more widespread in the last five years, we will continue to fight it with all our might and use the supportive community around us and what unites us to illuminate the dark corners of society. And of course, we will also continue to commemorate those who lost their lives outside of Israel, just because of their Jewishness, because After all, we are all one people."
שירה רודרמןShira RudermanPhoto: Yossi Tzavker
Meanwhile, last week demolition began on the Tree of Life building, beginning with the building's exterior. Most of the building will be removed, although portions of the sanctuary walls will be preserved. The new building will include spaces for worship, a museum, an education center and a movie theater.
"This one moment in time that happened at the synagogue is not going to prevent the synagogue from reopening and more joyous moments happening in the synagogue," Wedner's husband, Ron, asserts.
The murdered worshippers were: Rose Mallinger, 97; Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband, Sylvan Simon, 86; brothers David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59; Dan Stein, 71; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Melvin Wax, 87; Irving Younger, 69; and Richard Gottfried, 65.
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