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

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

Mark Oppenheimer. Knopf, $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525657-19-4

Journalist Oppenheimer (Knocking on Heaven’s Door) delivers a vivid and deeply empathetic look at Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood in the aftermath of the October 2018 mass killing of 11 worshippers at a local synagogue. Oppenheimer, whose great-great-great-grandfather cofounded the first Jewish burial society in Squirrel Hill, focuses on how residents and outsiders responded to the “greatest antisemitic attack in American history,” depicting acts of hesed, or “lovingkindness,” as well as moments of discord. His profile subjects include a local woman who was photographed reciting Psalms outside the synagogue just hours after the murders, a man who has been delivering handcrafted victim memorials to the sites of mass shootings since Columbine, an archivist tasked with determining which artifacts from the day of the shooting and the weeks afterward might be worth preserving, and an Iranian graduate student whose GoFundMe account for the survivors and victims’ families raised nearly $1.3 million. Oppenheimer also documents residents’ varied responses to President Trump’s visit to Squirrel Hill, and details how a rabbi who had survived the attack courted controversy by calling for gun control in remarks delivered on the one-year anniversary of the shooting (planners had wanted the event to be “completely apolitical”). Deeply reported and elegantly written, this is a powerful portrait of grief and resilience in “the oldest, most stable, most internally diverse Jewish neighborhood in the United States.” Photos. (Oct.)