Insightful reflections by Pittsburgh writers

by | May 19, 2022 | Book Reviews

Bound In The Bond Of Life

(Pittsburgh Writers Reflect

on the Tree of Life Tragedy)

Edited by Beth Kissileff and Eric Lidji

University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020

242 pages


Rabbi Zoberman

The utterly shocking and deeply unsettling 83-minute attack on Shabbat morning, October 27, 2018, on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, resulting in the death of 11 worshiping Jews, has been described as the worst antisemitic crime committed on American soil. The book’s title, Bound In The Bond Of Life, is the traditional Jewish memorial response asserting life’s primacy while facing painful death and loss. The moving volume of insightful reflections by a wide array of Pittsburgh writers connects to their own lives’ experiences. It is thoughtfully fitting testimony honoring the memory of the slain who are rightfully placed in the context of the long historical chain of Jewish martyrdom, culminating in the Holocaust and beyond, with the appellation of “Kedoshei Pittsburgh” (Pittsburgh’s Martyrs).

The book’s co-editor Beth Kissileff is married to one of the attack’s survivors, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation, which meets at Conservative Tree of Life. She has taught at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Minnesota, among others, editing, Reading Genesis: Beginnings, along with, Reading Exodus: Journeys.

Kissileff compellingly challenges the reader, “The essays in this volume raise issues and ask tough questions…. Can any of us feel safe again? Did anti- Semitism really not ever go away?—With the anticipation there will be an impetus to think about these issues in a new way and even perhaps act to ameliorate the twin problems of anti-Semitism and gun violence that plague the United States at this moment, as well as the concomitant fear of the immigrant that is said to have impelled the shooter to his brutal action.”

Obviously, these and interrelated issues are complex and beclouded by sectarian politics. Thus, we are not free from tackling them while advocating for remedies that will help prevent similar tragedies in the future, aware of the precipitous rise of antisemitic violent acts in this country and around the world. Surely and sadly, antisemitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and hate of the Other are deeply seated in American society and elsewhere.

Co-editor Eric Lidji is director of Pittsburgh’s Rau Jewish History Program & Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center. He is the author of The Seventeenth Generation: The lifework of Rabbi Walter Jacob, and co-editor of Her Deeds Sing Her Praises: Profiles of Pittsburgh Jewish Women. He oversees preserving the October 27, 2018 massacre’s documentation. “In due time, with persistence, I can know just the tiniest bit more. I can know each thing individually. I will be able to describe it, and I will be able to situate it among all the other things in the archive, so that nothing is ever lost or overlooked, so that others can someday make meaning from it all.”

The Jewish experience, including the American Jewish one we have agonizingly discovered, is mixed; tears of joy as well as tears of sorrow with hopefully through prayer and action, the former having the upper hand. Only congregation Tree of Life remains in the building which will be redesigned by famed architect Daniel Libeskind, son of Holocaust survivors, who designed the World Trade Center site following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The remodeled building will memorialize the worst antisemitic violation on American soil, as well as serve the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. Quite a confluence of related tragedies!

Rabbi Dr. Israel Zoberman is founder and spiritual leader of Temple Lev Tikvah in Virginia Beach, Virginia.