The Tree of Life Massacre

A Special Issue of Bearings

On October 27, 2018, a man walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in the predominantly Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Mr. Roger’s actual neighborhood, as media reports like to point out. There, fueled by rabid anti-Semitic and xenophobic right-wing rage, he took the lives of eleven worshippers: Joyce Fineberg (75), Richard Gottried (65), Rose Mallinger (97), Jerry Rabinowitz (66), brothers Cecil (59) and David (54) Rosenthal, spouses Bernice (84) and Sylvan (86) Simon, Daniel Stein (74), Melvin Wax (87), and Irving Younger (69).

For this special issue of Bearings dedicated to the Tree of Life community, to the people of Pittsburgh, and to all people who have been subject to hate-fueled violence, we invited Joan Latchaw, a poet and professor of English composition at the University of Nebraska, Omaha who lived for many years near Tree of Life, to share reflections on this heinous tragedy. Joan’s “May Their Memory Be a Blessing: A Prayer of Hope after the Tree of Life Massacre” takes a path through grief marked by Jewish traditions of remembrance that lead to hope. In “Oh God of Mercy, Oh Wild God” we have also shared a short introduction by Elizabeth Drescher to Pittsburgh-born poet Gerald Stern’s “The Dancing” as an expression of the complex, contradictory, and ultimately unresolvable feelings that define events like these and their aftermath. Finally, we’ve turned to our archives for the wisdom of one of our most insightful commentators, Jayme Wooten, whose prescient pre-2016 election article “Beyond Prophetic Rhetoric: Jesus and Justice in Practice,” calls for modes of engaged, activist preaching in what are still “times like these” despite the real risks of challenging seemingly intractable structures of power and speaking boldly against the status quo when it disadvantages the most vulnerable.

Our regular November issue, Ministry on the Edge, will be published later this week. After we’re all done voting.

Elizabeth Drescher

Elizabeth Drescher, PhD is the editor of Bearings and a Consulting Scholar at The BTS Center. She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University and the author of Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones (Oxford University Press, 2016), Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Morehouse 2011), and, with Keith Anderson, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse, 2012) and Click 2 Save: Reboot (Church Publishing, 2018). Her commentary on contemporary religion and spirituality has been published in Alternet, AmericaThe AtlanticSalon, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, Religion Dispatches, The Washington Post, and other national publications. She is a much sought after speaker for religious and academic groups engaging the changing religious landscape in the United States. You can find Elizabeth on Twitter @edrescherphd.


Cover Photo: Cam Miller, “Pittsburgh is a Family” (October 29, 2018). Via Flickr. Cc2.0 license.