Oppenheimer, Mark. “Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood”, Knopf, 2021.
An Antisemitic Attack
Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the country and it is known for its tight-knit community of multigenerational families. On October 27, 2018, a gunman killed eleven Jews who were worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue making this the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. Mark Oppenheimer gives us the story of the community at the center of the attack. He details the dialogues that he shared with “residents and nonresidents, Jews and gentiles, survivors and witnesses, teenagers and seniors, activists and historians” and writes about the confrontations that Squirrel Hill had to deal with as it healed. The stories that we read here give us an account of collective grief, love, support, and revival. Squirrel Hill remained vibrant and supportive and that is what this book is about. The book focuses on thehopes, fears, and tensions that we must deal with as we attempt to heal.
Many neighborhoods would sink into despair and recrimination after something like this but not Squirrel Hill. We get a look at what happened after the event and seesocietal resilience and insight on gun violence. We also read about “the tragic superficiality of our supposed differences.”
A tragedy such as the Squirrel Hill massacre cannot destroy the heart of a community. Oppenheimer shows us a unique Jewish place that extends to Jewish life and community in present-day America. He faces the questions left behind of how to continue, how to remember and memorialize when the massacre makes no sense. Instead of writing about the gunman killer, he the experience of the victims, survivors, and community.
We better understand what it means to be a community in a time of tragedy and to find hope in a time of terrible trouble. While this is the story of the Squirrel Hill community, it is also the story of each Jewish American community in this country.