Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton join Pittsburgh rally for synagogue shooting victims
Michael Keaton and Tom Hanks joined several hundred people Friday at rainy Point State Park to rally for peace, compassion and unity in the face of tragedy.
The rally, officially called Stronger than Hate: A Gathering of Compassion, Unity and Love , began with a minute-long moment of silence for the 11 killed in the Oct. 27 mass shooting at Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill.
Hanks, who has been in Pittsburgh researching and filming a movie on the life of Fred Rogers, spoke to the crowd huddled under umbrellas.
Keaton, a Pittsburgh native, joined him in praising the city for its strength and unity.
“A visitor here will learn of the unbreakable bond shared by all who wear the black and the gold — a connection stronger than the iron and steel forged in the furnaces of this city, here in the American heart,” Hanks said. “A visitor will know that Pittsburgh is a great city because Pittsburgh has been greatly tested, and in those trials — in your days of struggle — Pittsburgh has set an example of what can come next, and what can come next can be good.”
He appeared on stage with Joanne Rogers — wife of the late Fred Rogers. The Taylor Allderdice High School choir sang “Won’t You be my Neighbor,” the theme song of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Hanks and Joanne Rogers joined in, sharing an umbrella on stage.
“Let us replace guns with hugs,” Joanne Rogers said.
The rally came nearly two weeks after a gunman armed with an AR-15 and three handguns walked into Shabbat services at the synagogue and opened fire. He killed 11 people among the three congregations that hold services there and wounded six others — including four police officers.
SWAT operator Tim Matson remains hospitalized, as does 70-year-old Daniel Leger. Both are in stable condition, according to UPMC.
Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, has been charged in the massacre. He remains in federal custody, housed in the Butler County Prison and facing a 44-count federal indictment.
Keaton described watching from across the country as the carnage unfolded in his hometown.
“This was a tough one,” Keaton said. “When I was in California watching all this occur, the feeling of helplessness was extraordinary.” ”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the country must move forward as one America, and he pledged to work toward common-sense reform that will end such acts of violence.
“We gather here today to say enough is enough and hate against one is hate against all,” Peduto said.
David Knoll, 40, of Squirrel Hill, and his children, Azi, 10, and Caleb, 9 — both wearing the now iconic “Stronger than Hate” T-shirts over their rain jackets — braved the cold and rain to show their love for the city and to embrace the city police and elected officials who supported the Jewish community after the shooting. The family lives three blocks from Tree of Life.
“While one lone gunman did a terrible thing, the city’s behind us,” Knoll said. “And as Jews, we feel it.”
Knoll’s father fled Germany in 1938 after Nazi soldiers terrorized Jewish communities throughout Germany in an event that has come to be known as Kristallnacht, or night of broken glass.
“The synagogues were burned to the ground, their fellow Jews were murdered, incarcerated,” said David Knoll, 40, of Squirrel Hill.
After that night, persecuted by their government and police, his 4-year-old father and his family fled the city of Cologne. They escaped to America, avoiding the violence and inhumanity that would follow in Europe.
Friday, 80 years to the day later, Knoll joined other Pittsburghers to mourn and remember the city’s own day of broken glass, just two weeks prior.
“It’s more important for my kids to be here,” said Knoll, clad in a Steelers jersey.
Peduto noted the date, as well.
“We gather here today on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht: a day in which Jews in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia saw the breaking of glass of businesses, saw the vandalism and the damage done through physical harm — words of anti-Semitism, reflected 80 years ago today, in the first violent acts that would lead to the Holocaust,” he said.
Duquesne University sophomore Lauren Belfiore, 19, attended with her mother, Michele, both of Canonsburg.
Belfiore, an education major, works at the Carriage House Caring Center, a daycare near Tree of Life. She remembers walking past the synagogue on her way to work days after the shooting.
“Just all the emotion that flooded into me, I just felt like I needed to come today and support,” she said.
“I love my city,” said Chaquita Barnett, a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh who walked from the Hill District to be at the rally.
She hoped the gathering could give her some peace and closure.
“I’m all about diversity and inclusion,” Barnett said. “I don’t have a lot of money to give, but I can pray for unity and peace.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, email@example.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.