Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood

Knopf. Oct. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780525657194. $28.95. SOC SCI
The 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was the largest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, when a white nationalist killed 11 people at the city’s oldest synagogue, in the country’s oldest Jewish neighborhood, just before morning Shabbat services. Oppenheimer (director, Yale Journalism Initiative) has personal ties to Squirrel Hill that compelled him to tell the story of gun violence through the lives of its victims and survivors, based on extensive interviews. He writes that the loss ripped through the tight-knit community. In the aftermath, observing traditional Jewish ceremonial roles was a way to ease the grief: the shomrim (who watch over the body of a deceased person until burial) recited psalms to comfort souls violently torn from this world; and the chevra kadisha society prepared bodies for burial. Beyond the initial shock of violence, Oppenheimer also asks how the soul of a community and its residents can be restored. He observes the way Squirrel Hill moved forward by focusing on the life of the community rather than the death visited upon it. The book includes several maps and photographs.
VERDICT A devastating story of loss that becomes a story of societal resilience; essential reading for anyone seeking insight on gun violence.
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