I’m at the Kollel Jewish Learning Center for Maariv, and the townsfolk seem eager to greet a stranger in their midst. For those who recognize me, it’s not difficult to guess what has brought me here.
That Pittsburgh is the smallest big town in America is a homemade adage I’d be hearing throughout my trip. It would provide context for the high regard its dwellers seem to harbor for one another, regardless of background. Less than a mile separates the kollel and the nearby kosher shopping juncture, from Tree of Life, where the most heinous anti-Jewish attack took place a day prior.
Raindrops, light but persistent, linger throughout the cool evening. Also noticeable is a police and media presence, who emerge from and then subsequently retreat to their respective vehicles and tents.
Traffic is barred from passing and all along the perimeter I come across at least a half-dozen hastily assembled memorials to the victims. Hundreds of batches of fresh flowers lay strewn amongst tear-inducing letters, all in damp condition. Candles of many shapes and sizes constitute the center of these memorials. Hardly any of them stood much of a chance against the rain. But here and there the flicker of a diminutive flame lingers on.
Attached to a pole at the first memorial site I notice a laminated paper fluttering in the evening breeze. A single Hebrew word—mispallel, praying—takes up the entirety of the page. Suddenly, a gust of wind cracks the page along the side of the pole, ominously leaving just the first two letters, mem and tav—meis, death—in view.
There is much to take in outside the Tree of Life building, where a total of 11 monuments stand tall, each one bearing the name of one of the martyrs. I watch as both individuals and groups—some weeping out loud, some trembling in silence, some engaging loudly in songs of hope, some burdened down in solemn reflection—arrive to show their respects to the victims. There’s Jason Greenblatt, who has arrived from Washington, and Naftali Bennett, who has journeyed from Israel. Time continues to tick, rain continues to fall, and night continues to forge ahead. And the stream of tribute-givers persists.