At Squirrel Hill school, students shine ‘light into the darkness’
Students and school officials at Squirrel Hill’s Community Day School on Tuesday honored the memory of 11 people killed in a weekend shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation.
Standing in front of a Holocaust-inspired statue, students had a prevailing message: Their community is unified againt hate.
“When you see shootings on the news, you feel sad,” said eighth grader Isaac Weissman-Markowitz. “But when you see it’s in your community, it feels like nothing else. This was a hate crime. This is a country of freedom. We should not let ourselves be pushed down by ignorant people.”
School leaders said eighth-grade students at the Jewish day school put together a plan Monday morning to hold the ceremony. The Oct. 27 mass shooting has been cited as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the nation’s history.
“The kids planned this all on their own,” said Mark Minkus, the head of middle school at Community Day School. “When they see a need, they ask, ‘What can we do?’ We started the day yesterday processing the emotions about what happened over the weekend. They wanted their voices to be heard. We’re unified against hate. Our students are shining a light into the darkness.”
Minkus said some of the school’s eighth-graders knew the victims because members of the class attend a prayer service known as “minyan makers” — which involves praying in a group of 10 people — at Tree of Life on Monday mornings.
“Some of our kids attend that synagogue,” Minkus said. “Thankfully, none of them were there on Saturday.”
Just before 8 a.m. on Tuesday, students and educators took part in a standing-room-only prayer service at the school. It was followed by a program put together by eighth-graders in front of a sculpture at the school that represents the victims of the Holocaust through six million tabs from cans that have been placed into glass blocks. Work on the sculpture—known as Keeping Tabs, which is in the shape of the Star of David—began in 1996, and it was installed in 2012.
“On the day after the shooting, our eighth-graders talked through their grief and fear and said, ‘Let’s act,’” said Avi Baran Munro, the head of school for Community Day.
During the ceremony, students recited “The Star Spangled Banner” and read poems, such as Brenda Poole’s “Changes.” Speakers called on the community to take a stand against hatred and anti-Semitism.
“We are coming together as a community to grieve and begin to heal,” said eighth-grader Gabriella Naveh, who called the shooting “a senseless act of hate.”
Yishai Selig, another eighth-grader, praised the courage of the emergency responders at the scene of the shooting.
“In my opinion, bravery is in every one of us,” Selig said. “Officers who came to assist entered an unknown and dangerous scene they might not have come out of to help people they didn’t know.”
Students lit candles for each of the 11 victims—Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, Rose Mallinger, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Jerry Rabinowitz, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Daniel Stein and brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal—and gave brief biographies of their lives.
“This past weekend, we lost 11 members of our community to an anti-Semitic incident,” eighth-grader Nealey Barak said. “The events of Sat., Oct. 27, 2018, were a tragedy. [The victims] believed in peace, equality and freedom. Now that they’re gone, we must live up to who they’d want us to be.”
Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi for Tree of Life, told the crowd of about 100 that their support went a long way in the wake of such a horrific incident.
“When I came here this morning, I had no strength,” he said. “You gave me the strength to get through today.”
Nathan Duke is a contributing writer for the Tribune-Review.