There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater the night of October 20th, 2022; including mine. I can typically bypass the daunting task of processing tear jerking emotions altogether. My avoidance usually works best when I misplace an item of clothing or if something I wanted doesn’t come to fruition and I do my best to not get upset about it. I rationalize my way around minor, non-life threatening annoyances such as these once I find the logic behind it all. However, there is one annoying experience that I’ve encountered (and unfortunately, still do from time to time) that I’ve yet to find the logic behind. That major annoyance is Racism. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. It will never make sense to me that the fears and misconceptions about a group of people or persons could incite hate and premeditated acts of violence.
On October 20th, 2022, I attended the exclusive HBO screening in Manhattan, New York for “A Tree Of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting” nationally phrased as, ‘The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting’. The screening opened with remarks by director Trish Adelsic and producer Susan Margolin. Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers led the audience in a moment of silence and thoughtful prayer. On the cusps of the 4th anniversary, the screening was a beautiful event to remember the innocent men and women lost and celebrate their lives. The tragic events of the day unfolded, a little over 4 years ago, on the morning of October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 22 defenseless Jewish worshippers became the targets of a anti-semitist terrorist attack. The lone suspect, Robert Gregory Bowers, armed himself with a Colt AR-15 SP1, semi-automatic assault rifle and 3-Glock .357 handguns, entered into the synagogue during their time of devotional prayer and open-fired on the unassuming congregation. In his wake of destruction, 11 victims of this mass shooting survived, many with injuries and lingering cases of PTSD from the incident; 11 of the victims did not survive the attack of the gunman.
The documentary film was created by award-nominated and Emmy-winning director Trish Adlesic, a Pittsburgh native, and was Executively produced by Michael Keaton, Billy Porter, and Mark Cuban among others (which include, D.J. Gugenheim, Geeta Gandbhir, Elliott Joseph, Lloyd Myers, Lauran Bromley, Michele Fetting, and Charlie Friday). The documentary film delves into the aftermath of the Squirrel Hill community, a quaint town in Pittsburgh, whose foundation was shaken by this heinous act against humanity. The film highlights the resilience that helped the community band together across the divides of culture, religion and racial differences to mourn the innocent victims who lost their lives.
“A Tree Of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting”, alarms the world to the prejudicial violence that threatens our sense of security; and the film takes an expansive look at the hate-based crisis in the United States, stemming from the political climate in our country and it stands up to the ideals that are presently causing the moral decay of humanity. Adlesic does a remarkable job balancing the focus on the impacts of Anti-Semitism in America being as problematic a concern nationally as it is on a global scale; she skillfully illustrates the impacts of Anti-Semetic views, propaganda and how these global issues change the lives of well-meaning people that we interact with day to day.
On a brighter note, the film sends the uplifting message that “love wins”. The documentary film interviews both survivors, their families and members of the community that rose to the occasion to serve as the balm for the healing of the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill. The story of the attack is told through voices from the community, including Carol Black, Dr. Joseph Charny, Anthony Fienberg, Audrey Glickman, Daniel Leger, Wasi Mohamed, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Brad Orsini, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Michele Rosenthal, Diane Rosenthal, Augie Siriano, Ellen Surloff, Andrea Wedner, Stephen Weiss and Barry Werber.
Special guests of the screening included HBO Executives, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller; Idina Menzel and Kate Diaz, who share a song featured in the film; film-featured American Classical Musician and Jazz Trumpeter, Hannibal Lokumbe; and film featured Senior Policy Officer and community advocate Wasi Mohamed, a life-long Pennsylvania resident and community advocate committed to changing systems and structures that perpetuate poverty and inequity.
For me, the most eye opening aspect of this film was the perspective that it afforded me. As a spectator, I was a witness to racism and not as the victim. Very rarely have I been a witness to racial crimes that weren’t targeted and directed towards BIPOC. Adlesic’s film offered me a unique and freeing insight about racism by educating me on the ongoing struggles of the Jewish communities in America. I was able to experience the vulnerability and helpless feeling of wanting to free a targeted group of people from the experience of being discriminated against, but found myself not knowing how to convince their attacker of the fault in their logic. This film taught me that prejudice and hate crimes all mimic the same behavioral pattern; an the unwillingness of a racist person to see life outside of their own perspective; the spread of misinformation, the continuance of indoctrinating fear-based rhetoric into the next generation; lack of gun-control laws, the lack of mental health and hygiene; and that hatred along with the crimes it inspires are not an exclusive struggle to one race, color or creed, as an experience. It is my hope that films such as, “A Tree Of life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting” can be a major part of the catalyst that helps our country and the world to stop these attacks and heal us all from our fear-driven, limiting beliefs.
“A Tree Of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting” aired on Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.