Pitt Community Gathers to Grieve, Heal and Serve in Honor of Tree of Life Synagogue

  • Sean Cook, a first-year Master of Fine Arts theater student at Pitt, holds up a sign created by students, faculty and staff in the Department of Theatre Arts promoting the "Stronger Than Hate" slogan that has swept the city of Pittsburgh for the past week. “We are very grateful that the University has created this opportunity for healing,” Cook said. “We have the chance to stand up and reinvest in activities promoting diversity and unity.” (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Dawn Arumemi, a junior anthropology major (foreground) and Caleb D. Hart, a sophomore linguistics major, add their names to one of the two banners available for tribute attendees to sign. One will be delivered to the Tree of Life synagogue, the other to the Senator John Heinz History Center. (Jolie Williamson/University of Pittsburgh)
  • “This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen in one of America’s friendliest cities,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in his remarks at the Pitt Together: Stronger Than Hate tribute. Gallagher called for Pitt community members’ responses to the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue to be to "actively stand together, offer a helping hand, reject discrimination of every kind, seek to understand others, practice compassion and love.” (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Thousands from the Pitt community and beyond attended the tribute. Here, the crowd is captured from the fifth floor of the Cathedral of Learning. (Alex Mowrey)
  • Rabbi Daniel Schiff at podium
    Daniel Schiff, a rabbi and foundation scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the founder and president of the Museum of Jewish Ideas, told those gathered to "be a shield. Let us ever resolve to remember those individuals who were murdered last week, by being a shield around the vulnerable that this might never happen again.” (Alex Mowrey)
  • Singers from Pitt a cappella group The SongBurghs sang “I Was Here,” a song known for being performed at United Nations World Humanitarian Day by singer Beyoncé. (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Brian Burke, a history and political science major who is also pursuing a certificate in Jewish studies at Pitt, gave his reflection Monday about the Tree of Life synagogue tragedy. Burke, president of the Pitt Hillel Jewish Student Union, personally knew one of the victims of last weekend’s tragedy. (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Thousands of shirts were handed out of the Pitt community before the tribute event. Daniel Schiff, a rabbi and foundation scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the founder and president of the Museum of Jewish Ideas, explained the significance behind the Star of David, which in Hebrew is the Magen — or shield — of David. “Look at that shield and resolve that in the weeks and months and years ahead, you will respond to this evil by being a shield. A shield again antisemitism, a shield to protect the vulnerable, a shield around the downtrodden, a shield for those that need you." (Alex Mowrey)
  • Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann Cudd’s remarks focused on the actions of the first responders to the synagogue. “They encountered darkness and confronted it fearlessly, protecting the city, and helping many to safety.” Those involved in helping in the aftermath of the tragedy — from law enforcement, to doctors and nurses, and to bystanders — “Uniformly, you reflect the power of selfless service.” (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Pitt a cappella group C Flat Run performed “Grow” by singer Frances. (Alex Mowrey)
  • Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and a 2017 graduate of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, told those gathered that “we’re all one family. And I use that term because we are family. What I think a true Pitt education is, is not going to these classes and finishing, but it’s changing who you are, it’s growing up, it’s coming with a closed mind but leaving with an open one, having a closed heart and leaving with an open one." (Alex Mowrey)
  • Group of students applauding, standing in a group, eyes
    From left: Rana Imtiaz, a sophomore bioinformatics major, and sophomore biology majors Raywa Sathe and Ripal Sheth applaud at the conclusion of Chancellor Patrick Gallagher's address. Gallagher ended with these words: "Let us all resolve that our commitment to stand together will endure until we have built that better tomorrow — a world that offers peace and liberty for everyone. A place that stands against hatred. A place of love. That’s real power: Let us show the world that type of Pittsburgh strong." (Jolie Williamson/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto talks to students after Monday’s tribute to the victims of last weekend’s Tree of Life synagogue tragedy. Peduto encouraged students Monday to rise above the hate and help create a better future for all. (Alex Mowrey)

Dawn Arumemi — along with thousands of others — came to the Cathedral of Learning lawn on the University of Pittsburgh campus Monday to mourn as a community, to pay respect to lives lost, to find a way to move forward.

“What I want to do now is be more vocal,” said Arumemi, a junior anthropology major at Pitt. “I want to speak when I see or hear something that is wrong, to keep spreading knowledge, to keep opening minds with a conversation.”

The sentiment was at the heart of the Pitt Together: Stronger Than Hate tribute on Nov. 5. The event honored the lives of the 11 Tree of Life synagogue members killed in the Oct. 27 shooting at their house of worship in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The tribute included addresses from Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd, University Senate President Chris Bonneau, students, faculty, staff, community officials and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

“In the days ahead, our response to this tragedy must be to actively stand together, offer a helping hand, reject discrimination of every kind, seek to understand others, practice compassion and love,” said Gallagher.

In his address, Daniel Schiff, a rabbi and foundation scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the founder and president of the Museum of Jewish Ideas, asked those gathered “How do we go about the task after such deep, grievous loss, of healing our minds, of healing our bodies, of healing our spirits? If you want to feel that the world might yet again be put back together, then be the support for another. Ask not, ‘What shall I do for myself?’ Ask rather, ‘What can I do for my neighbor?’”

Members of the Pitt community have already been looking for ways to help.

Ripal Sheth and Raywa Sathe, both sophomore biology students at Pitt, said they have helped friends and other students cope and be made aware of this tragedy by sharing counseling events with them.

“We want to show people that they are not alone,” Sheth said. “We want to show people that students are showing support and we are united.”

Other students are healing with the power of the arts.

Harry Lebovitz, a first-year student in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, and Konstantine Deyev, a 2013 Dietrich School graduate, wrote a song, “Stronger Than Hate,” that they performed at the event.

“As I was singing, I felt us all coming together,” said Lebovitz. “We want people to know we will not stand another day of hatred. Pittsburgh is a city of steel and spirit and we cannot be broken by this hatred.”

Deyev said he hopes the song will also serve as a voice of younger generations, along with being a source of healing.

“We want the youth to feel they are represented and give them a voice to look up to and look toward,” he said.

Megan MacCall-Carter, a first-year political science major, said she was comforted and impressed that “all of my teachers made sure to tell us that we could stop by and talk to them, email them, whatever we needed, they were going to be there for us.”

It’s a theme that was echoed again and again.

Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and a 2017 graduate of the Dietrich School, told those gathered that “we’re all one family. And I use that term because we are family. ... A true Pitt education is not going to these classes and finishing, but it’s changing who you are, it’s growing up, it’s coming with a closed mind but leaving with an open one, having a closed heart and leaving with an open one. That’s what a true Pitt education is.”

Sharon You, a first-year biology major, said students have come together in new ways since the tragedy as well.

“I think one of the results is that all of the universities in Pittsburgh are coming together on social media to support each other and build community,” she said. “And not just in Pittsburgh — it’s students across the country. I know that social media sometimes has a bad reputation, but what I see is it helping us all come together.”

Paula Riemer, an administrator in the Department of Music, said she felt that not coming wasn’t an option.

“I’m part of the University of Pittsburgh community and I’m part of the Jewish community and this was extremely meaningful to me to be here today. That there were students, that there was a rabbi, that there was the head of the Islamic Center," she said, in addition to "people that I know from other departments — faculty, staff, students, facilities management people, the administration, the mayor. It’s just very emotional.”

Rabbi Schiff, commenting on the Pitt Stronger Than Hate T-shirts which incorporated a Star of David design created to show Pitt’s support for the Jewish community, explained the significance:

“The symbol — it’s the shield of David. Take your T-shirt home. Hang it on your wall. Look at that shield and resolve that in the weeks and months and years ahead, you will respond to this evil by being a shield. A shield against antisemitism, a shield to protect the vulnerable, a shield around the downtrodden, a shield for those that need you. Be a shield. Let us ever resolve to remember those individuals who were murdered last week, by being a shield around the vulnerable that this might never happen again.”