Survivors and students shine a light on antisemitism

Remembering the eleven people whose lives were taken from Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light Congregations. Photo: Repairing The World Film

When Amy Mallinger’s grandmother, Rose Mallinger, died at 97 in the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, her family wasn’t the only ones hurt. “The shooting didn’t just happen to my family; it happened to the whole community,” Amy said. “And just like when the George Floyd murder happened, when Asian hate spiked during COVID, all of our communities supported each other and banded against hate.”

As one of many volunteers for 10.27’s REACH program, in which family members and survivors travel to schools to share their experience, educate the community and remember their loved ones, Amy participated in a special program at Mt. Lebanon High School on Tuesday evening. About 100 community members of all ages gathered to hear from survivors and family members of those killed in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The event, called Community Response Through Film, “Repairing the World: Stories from Tree of Life,” began with remarks from Mt. Lebanon School Superintendent Dr. Melissa Friez, presentations from students, a screening of the film, and finally a Q&A panel with survivors and students. Other participating groups included Lebo United, Mt. Lebanon LIGHT, Eradicate Hate Global Summit and the 10.27 Healing Partnership.

Maggie Feinstein is the executive director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, which promotes healing, resiliency and education in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on October 27, 2018. She said events like these are important because “after hearing victims’ stories, you start to see it differently.”

Amy regularly shares stories about her grandmother Rose, who is featured prominently in the film as a pillar in both her family and community. She led Tree of Life’s prayer for peace weekly on Shabbat.

During the 41-minute film screening, viewers watched family members, journalists, elected officials, students and community members process the pain and turmoil caused by the shooting. Rabbi Jeffery Myers from the Tree of Life synagogue said in an interview: “Eleven beautiful lives were cut down in our synagogue. But we’re a tree of life. More leaves will grow back, more branches will grow back. We’re not letting hate close our doors, ever.”

Panelists described their experiences with antisemitism and hate, but also share words of hope and inspiration.

Panelists included Dan Leger, who was injured in the shooting; Jodi Kart, a Mt. Lebanon resident whose father, Mel Wax, was killed; Andrea Wedner, who was wounded and lost her mother, Rose Mallinger; Amy Mallinger; Reverend Tim Smith, CEO of Center of Life in Hazelwood; and several Mt. Lebanon students.

Jodi Kart said she chose not to participate in the film, because at the time, the pain and grief from losing her father was too overwhelming. “My dad was such a kind man. He always led with a joke,” she said. “But he was very aware of his Jewishness and antisemitism. From when I was young, he told me not to wear the Star of David and not to announce my Judaism to the world. Ironically, the place where he thought it was safe to be a Jew is where it was taken from him.”

After the massacre, Kart received an outpouring of support from strangers all over the world. Each day, hundreds of cards, gifts and flowers arrived in the mail. At first, she said she was confused by the mail, wondering how so many people found her. But then, it became the thing she looked forward to the most each day. The messages of sympathy and condolence continued for nearly a year after her father’s death. Today, Kart practices small acts of kindness in her daily life and attends services at Beth El to honor her father’s memory.

Andrea Wedner shared a similar experience. In the film, Wedner said she was transported by ambulance to her own mother’s funeral, because she was still recovering in the hospital after being shot. Her community started a food chain for her. Each night a different person would bring her meals when she was injured, unable to cook, and grieving the loss of her mother, Rose. This support, she said, “was a very big part of me getting through it.”

When questions were opened to audience members, one man asked a question directed at students on the panel. He wanted to know what, if anything, they remembered of the day of the shooting. Eighth-grader Eden Cheng was the first to speak up.

She remembers the day clearly. Her family wanted to start attending synagogue service in Pittsburgh, but then the shooting happened. Ever since, Eden said she’s been afraid to go to a synagogue, wondering if it would happen to her next. “I can’t connect to my roots. My mom is Jewish, and it really scared my family, especially me. Because I wanted to be Jewish, but I haven’t been able to.” The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting happened when Eden was in third grade, only 8 years old, and it continues to affect her today.

Eden Cheng, Mellon Middle School student, shared her experience in the LIGHT Initiative.

Adult panelists were moved by her emotional and candid response. Jodi Kart took a microphone to respond to Eden. “I relate to you, so much,” said Kart. “But when I go to services now, for me it’s about finding peace. I’m not going to let evil take that from me.”

Eden Cheng is part of the LIGHT Initiative at Mellon Middle School, which is a regional effort to educate students on human rights and genocide, and empower them to stand up to bullying and prejudice. Cheng said, “LIGHT promotes being an upstander,” rather than a bystander. This year, Mt. Lebanon students in LIGHT led clothing swaps, participated in summits, and taught lessons to younger students on the dangers of stereotypes, microaggressions and hate.

Panel moderator Maggie Feinstein said “Young people and communities can respond to hate in small ways. We’re all part of prevention efforts.”

Andrea Wedner shared a similar sentiment. “I’m grateful for life. I look for the good in everything and try to send that through to other people.”

The film ended with a Jewish saying: tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world.” The panelists and survivors said sharing stories, remembering loved ones and educating against hate are all ways to do just that.

Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life. Learn more at