Olive Trees Planted for the 11 Murdered in Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre

On Friday, 30 November 2018, a ceremony commemorating the 11 congregants murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last month took place in the Rosh Pina community forest.

December 5, 2018 19:50
Participants memorialize the Pittsburgh shooting victims in the Rosh Pina forest

Participants memorialize the Pittsburgh shooting victims in the Rosh Pina forest. (photo credit: KKL-JNF)


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On Friday afternoon, about 30 Rosh Pina residents gathered in the Rosh Pina community forest for a ceremony in solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, which is still reeling from the aftermath of the gun massacre perpetrated on October 27 at the Tree of Life synagogue where 11 congregants were murdered during Sabbath morning prayers.  

The massacre shocked Jews in the United States, Israel, and around the world. “My wife Judith suggested holding a planting ceremony,” Prof. Anthony Luder, a member of the Rosh Pina pluralist community said at the ceremony. “The suggestion was embraced by our rabbi and community, and even outside of it in Rosh Pina in general. We decided to mark this loss of life through the planting of new life, 11 living trees for the Tree of Life community. Rabbi Gabi Shimol suggested that they be olive trees, as a fitting memorial for Israel and the Galilee region, to mark the memory, protest and communal statement of – never again.”

Planting a tree in Rosh Pina forest (Credit: KKL-JNF)

Ceremony participants included representatives of local communities in Rosh Pina: The Pluralist Jewish community, the Eli Cohen Synagogue, the bilingual kindergarten, the Beit HaYekev Club, the youth club house, and the green committee at the local Vilkometz School. The representatives spoke in memory of the victims and their addresses were interspersed with musical interludes by local musicians from the Rosh Pina community – Yasmin Shargil on the flute and Ron Zvi Trotos on vocals and the guitar.

“The Tree of Life Synagogue serves as an example of the sort of life that should exist among Jews of all branches. In 2010 the synagogue became the Tree of Life Congregation, a traditional, egalitarian, and progressive community,” Professor Anthony Luder said in his speech. “To this day the world did not know about this place, but as of this day the world cannot forget what was committed in this place. Eleven people were murdered on this day and 6 were injured.”

“One of the wonderful mitzvahs in the Torah is planting trees, as it is written: Enter the land and plant all kinds of fruit trees,” elucidated Gabi Shimol, rabbi of the Eli Cohen Synagogue. “There is nothing more wonderful than planting a tree in Israel. There is a special mitzvah here. The tree symbolizes Man, his soul, his connection to the earth, and that is how we will remember him.”

Also participating in the ceremony were Jews who grew up in the United States and immigrated to Israel.

“I was born and grew up in the United States, part of my family still lives there. Diaspora Jews are not alien to me. I know and cherish our brothers from across the sea, and I feel their pain,” said Dave Keyes, representative of the Beit HaYekev Club. “As a senior citizen I couldn’t help but notice that most of those murdered were senior citizens. The heart breaks to think that their lives ended so cruelly. The planting of Israeli olive trees in the soil of Rosh Pina is a symbol for the circle of life, from birth to death, and then replanting.”

After the speeches, 11 representatives from the different local communities each received an olive sapling, contributed by KKL-JNF as part of its joint activity with local residents in the community forest. A sign bearing the name of a victim was placed next to each sapling. Each sign has a QR code which visitors to the forest can scan with their smartphones to reach a website currently being established in memory of those who were murdered.

Through these olive trees, the 11 congregants murdered in the Tree of Life massacre are being commemorated, and their memory will continue to live on here in the hearts of the residents, as part of the rich fabric of life that they are creating and sustaining in the forest.

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