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Four years after the Tree of Life attack, Pittsburghers gather to remember the 11 killed

Keith Srakocic

Thursday marked four years since a gunman killed 11 people and wounded six during services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Survivors, community members, and local leaders gathered in Schenley Park on the anniversary of the event to remember those who died, honor those who were injured and first responders, and denounce antisemitism.

The event was organized by the 10.27 Healing Partnership, a group of federal, city government, and community organizations and people impacted by the shooting.

Friends and family of the people who died in the attack lit candles in their memory. Prayers and poems were read in English and in Hebrew, and kids created artwork that was displayed in the park.

Organizers included children in the event intentionally in the hope that it will help them remember the attack, said Kara Spodek, a member of the Tree of Life board of trustees. Spodek was also part of the 10.27 Healing Partnership committee that planned the memorial.

“Some kids don’t even know what the Holocaust is, they don’t even know what the word is,” she said.

Organizers hope that if they involve kids now, “and you keep bringing them in every year, eventually years from now they’re going to keep on remembering this. They’re going to pass it on to their children… So we’re not going to lose touch with it. It’s almost like a chain linked together, and it will keep on going.”

Representatives from the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway and the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus participated in the event.

Maggie Feinstein is director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership. She said her organization remains dedicated to creating a space for healing and community building.

“We will hold this space. This space will be here. We’re going to remember the 11, we’re going to remember October 27th,” Feinstein said.

The antisemitic attack was the deadliest in U.S. history.

“It has been four years. It’s hard to believe. Yet the work of memory is beside us and in front of us, it’s all around us. And it is our sacred duty to remember,” said Lauren Bairnsfather, the executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

Bairnsfather said people remember the victims in different ways. Some have done acts of service, others have prayed, and many continued to be “proudly Jewish.”

Speakers said remembrance is a key part of ensuring an end to identity-based violence.

“I am grateful and proud to be part of a community where individuals have been willing to see… that we have much more that connects us than should ever divide us,” Bairnsfather said.

At the close of the ceremony, attendees were invited to bring rocks to the candle memorial as a physical remembrance of the 11 people killed in the attack.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at