One Year Later, Jewish Faithful Remember Lives Lost at Tree of Life Synagogue

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Queens, NY

By Emily Drooby 

Every day for the past year, the names of the 11 Jewish people shot to death in their Pittsburgh synagogue have been recited before the mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Joe Charny, who now attends services five days a week, often leads the prayer.

Charny is only a visitor at the Beth Shalom congregation in Pittsburg. His home synagogue – Tree of Life – remains closed.

The 91-year-old was inside when a gunman slaughtered 11 people, including seven of his friends.

“We heard a noise and I didn’t pay much attention initially. He didn’t shoot me. he started with the people who were seated,” Joe explained.

It was the deadliest anti-semitic attack on American soil.

The suspect recently offered to plead guilty in exchange for spending life in prison, but federal prosecutors rejected the offer  and are seeking the death penalty.

365 days later, the building hasn’t reopened yet. In some ways, it’s become a memorial: a way to remember the victims, much like the reciting of their names.

“It  feels good to recite those names, because I know I’m doing the right thing and I know that I’m doing something for me and for them at the same time,” he added.

“I’m glad we do it. I like to hear the names. I think they make a difference. And I don’t want them forgotten.”

Joe’s friend of 50 years, Judah Samet, also recites the names each day. He narrowly escaped the massacre by being stopped from walking inside by another man.

“I would be right in the middle of the shooting. So he’s the one who really saved my life,” said Judah.

It isn’t the first time he escaped death. As a child Judah was at a nazi death camp in Germany.

“In Bergen Belson, when we see somebody dead, you walked around him, out of respect. But eventually we were weakening. We stepped on them. You could hear their bones cracking. It didn’t mean anything. By the age of seven, I had seen more death than life,” he recalled.

The targeting of people of Jewish faith, yet again, changed the way he looked at his synagogue for a while.

“And I looked at that and I said, ‘This looks like a tombstone. There’s no holiness emanating from this building and the 11 bodies in it. It’s a cemetery,’” Judah said.

But a year later, all he and survivor Joe Charny want is to go back to their sanctuary.

“Why?,” asked Joe.  “‘Cause it’s the right thing to do because, if you don’t, the other side wins.”

But until that day they will be here, honoring the friends they lost.