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New documentary honors those lost and speaks to survivors of 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: 

Robert Bowers will be on trial next year
(0:00 - 4:18)

It’s been four years since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue that took the lives of 11 worshipers. The trial of the man accused of killing the worshippers is scheduled to start on April 24, 2023, and will be in federal court under U.S. District Judge Robert Colville.

“In a death penalty case, which this is, involves two distinct phases after a jury selection is complete: the guilt phase, when the jury will decide whether they believe that the defendant is guilty of the many crimes he is accused of,” says An-Li Herring, WESA reporter. “If they do convict him, then they'll proceed to the penalty phase where they would decide whether to sentence Mr. [Robert] Bowers to death if he is convicted.”

Bowers has been indicted on more than 60 charges. Those charges fall under three categories: hate crimes based on religious animus, obstruction of the exercise of religion resulting in death, and the use of firearms.

Survivors share their experience during the 2018 antisemitic attack, and what has come since in a new HBO documentary 
(4:36 - 15:42)

A documentary about the mass shooting–its impact on family members of those who were killed, the survivors and the community – premiered on HBO yesterday. It’s called, “A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting.”

“We wanted to, first of all, hear the story as told by the survivors and then the families,” explains producer Susan Margolin. “But we also wanted to provide a greater context to the crime. And so, you know, bringing in discussions about white supremacy and the roots of antisemitism are some of the forces that led to, you know, driving Bowers to this horrific act.”

Writer, director and producer Trish Adlesic, a Pittsburgh native, says she sought to make the film immediately after the attack.

“When the attack happened, it was the most unthinkable thing anyone could have ever imagined. And, you know, we felt very strongly that we should go to work,” says Adlesic.

The film is available to stream on HBO and HBO Max.

We revisit an interview with Holocaust survivor Judah Samet, who narrowly avoided the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting 
(15:56 - 22:30)

As a child, Judah Samet survived the Nazi concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen, in Germany. More than seven decades later Judah narrowly escaped the mass shooting that took the lives of 11 of his fellow worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

The Confluence spoke with Samet two years ago in his home about the second anniversary of the mass shooting.

Judah Samet died Sept. 27 surrounded by loved ones. He was 84.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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