US: Congregations, community to commemorate synagogue shooting

Sunday marks one year since a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 people.

    A memorial of the victims of Tree of Life shooting is seen in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh [Gene J Puskar/AP Photo]
    A memorial of the victims of Tree of Life shooting is seen in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh [Gene J Puskar/AP Photo]

    A virtual remembrance, an overseas concert and community service projects highlight the many plans for commemorating the deadliest attack on Jews in United States history on the shooting's one-year anniversary Sunday.

    The attack killed 11 worshippers and wounded seven at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighbourhood.

    "The key to the day is to remember those who were lost - innocent, beloved, sorely missed pillars of the community," said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light, one of three congregations present the day of the attack.

    The Tree of Life building has remained closed since the shooting. The three congregations now worship at two nearby synagogues. Last week, Tree of Life leaders unveiled their vision for the damaged building: a rebuilt space for places of worship; memorial, education and social events; and classrooms and exhibitions.

    The commemoration's theme is "Remember. Repair. Together." It includes a private Jewish service, studying the portion of the Torah that was to be read when the shooting happened, opportunities to do community service, and a public memorial service.

    Several hundred people have registered to volunteer at various community organisations on Sunday, said Adam Hertzman, marketing director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

    Pittsburgh shooting
    People protesting against US President Donald Trump wait near the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [File: Brendan Smialowski/AFP] 

    The Clarion Quartet, comprised of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians, will perform at a special event in Germany that day. Violist Tatjana Mead Chamis, cellist Bronwyn Banerdt, and violinists Marta Krechkovsky and Jennifer Orchard were invited to play at the American Academy in Berlin during the orchestra's European tour. 

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    Thousands are expected to participate in Sunday's remembrance through Pause With Pittsburgh, a virtual memorial event created by the Jewish Federations of North America.

    People who register on the event's website will receive a text message on Sunday evening. They will see a two-minute video of the names of the 11 victims, followed by a Jewish prayer of mourning recorded by a cantor in Israel specifically for this commemoration. There also will be a link to a live stream of the public memorial service in Pittsburgh.

    Authorities charged Robert Bowers, 47, a truck driver from Baldwin, Pennsylvania, in the massacre. Investigators say he used an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, and posted criticism of an immigrant aid society on social media before the attack, claiming the Jewish charity "likes to bring invaders that kill our people." Police said Bowers also raged against Jews as he shot his victims.

    Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Bowers's attorneys said this month that the case would be over by now if the prosecutors had accepted his offer to plead guilty in return for a sentence of life in prison without parole. Some congregation members oppose making it a capital punishment case.

    Augie Siriano, the Tree of Life's long-time custodian, survived the shooting after seeking shelter. He visited the building a few weeks ago and said he was heartbroken at what he saw: bullet holes, doors off their hinges or shattered, and broken glass.

    "They were looking at me, asking, 'Are you OK?' I was in shock," he said. "It's really a shame for some reason he targeted that specific synagogue. It is just something I will never forget."

    SOURCE: AP news agency