“Ariel Walovitch, Northeastern University Hillel’s director of Jewish student life, contacted me a few days ago because she’s been running a mile a day for eleven days to honor the victims of the Tree of Life shooting and she’d heard that I was from Pittsburgh. I’m not much of a runner, but I immediately knew I wanted to join her for one of these runs, so I ran to honor Cecil and David Rosenthal.
Growing up in Squirrel Hill is like being part of a large, Jewish family. If I would meet a stranger on the street, they’d either know me as Carol’s son or Marcia’s grandson. I used to walk my dog around the block and pass by Tree of Life. My aunt lives right across the street. My grandmother is a member of the congregation. When the shooting happened, I was home from college for parents’ weekend.
My grandmother came over for Shabbat dinner that Friday night and stayed late. She was a regular at the service where the shooting happened, it was her Saturday morning minyan, and she wasn’t there that day because she’d been out late the night before with me. My grandmother has been telling me stories of the eleven congregants the past few days, about how Cecil Rosenthal would pass out the siddurim and always greet her very warmly and ask about her husband and her grandchildren, and about what a loving couple Bernice and Sylvan Simon were and how they were always together.
As I was running, I was thinking about the concept of home. Here I am in Boston, but I still think of Pittsburgh as my home. Tree of Life was their home. They weren't just victims, they were members of the community. Not only do we need to keep their memories alive, we need to keep their stories alive.” — Ellis James, Northeastern University