Like many Pittsburghers, Arlan Hess says that after the shootings last month at Tree of Life synagogue, she felt helpless.
Then she realized there was a way she could help.
Hess owns City Books on the North Side, and on Saturday the shop will host the Tree of Life Memorial Reading, with a dozen local writers and live music.
The event benefits HIAS, the nationally based group that aids refugees and immigrants and works locally with the nonprofit Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh.
Hess’s choice of beneficiary is pointed. HIAS’s motto is “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee.” Hess cites web posts by Robert Bowers, the South Hills man charged in the shooting deaths of 11 victims at the Squirrel Hill synagogue. Bowers regularly posted anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant messages, and he singled out HIAS for opprobrium.
“That’s what the shooter was barking about online and his social-media channels, and I’m happy to poke a stick in his eye,” says Hess.
“As one of the nine national refugee resettlement agencies, HIAS partners with the United States government to resettle refugees as part of the U.S. refugee admissions program,” says the group’s website. “Founded in 1881 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom. Guided by Jewish values and history, HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are.”
Saturday’s roster of notable poets, essayists and fiction writers includes Jennifer Bannan, Tuhin Das, Barbara Edelman, Michelle Gil-Montero, Kevin Haworth, Tereneh Idia, Joy Katz, Marc Nieson, Adriana Ramirez, Shannon Reed, Philip Terman and Jesse Welch. There’ll also be music from Mimi Jong, a soloist on the Chinese fiddle known as the erhu.
Writers might read their own work or someone else’s, says Hess, and there is no set theme.
“Everybody’s grieving in their own way and they’re reacting in their own way,” she says. “So I think it’s a time and a place for grief and reflection and celebration if you want, the coming together and celebrating of lives.”
City Books is located at 908 Galveston Avenue. (The store is modest in size; expect a tight crowd.)
The Tree of Life Memorial Reading runs 7-9 p.m. The suggested donation is $5.