Tree Of Life

As I turn the corner
the tall, tan walls
of the synagogue appear
in the distance looming
over everything else
on the street.

Welcome to Squirrel Hill.

The gate which surrounds the building is covered with messages
from people who once never knew this place existed
but now, treat it as the background to a renowned story.

Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—at least four dead.

I pause to take in the walls of the hallowed space
seemingly deserted for years
if not for the flowers left behind by visitors
at a solemn cemetery.

Then it occurs to me—
maybe I shouldn’t pause.
Maybe I too am in danger.
Maybe I should hurry past the building
to make sure no one sees me
and calls me out
just for who I am.

Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—at least five dead.

On October 27, 2018, I popped a piece
of whole-wheat bread into the toaster to brown.
It was a Saturday morning and the sun shone
through my upstate New York apartment.

Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—at least six dead.

My aunt was supposed to be in that synagogue that day.
But her washing machine broke—
and she was running late.

My cousins had become bar and bat-mitzvahs
inside the very building.
They had climbed on a stool on the bima
to be seen chanting from the Torah,
to be heard thanking the Rabbi, family, and friends
for all the support and encouragement.

I had taken smiling pictures with friends
in front of the large brown doors
which the shooter entered,
and I had stared up at the stained glass windows from inside,
before the place had turned into a tomb
that no longer allowed entrance.

My parents’ phones buzzed with updates
from one relative in lockdown
about another relative in lockdown—
my great-aunt was in lockdown
at a synagogue down the street.

Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—at least seven dead.

While my friends slept, my family wept.

Where have all the children gone?
Why can’t I hear the booming voice of the Rabbi?

Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—at least eight dead.

The parking lot sits empty day after day.

We see posters instead of people.
We hear the drone of nearby traffic
instead of prayer.

Pittsburgh is no place for hate they say.
But it was, and so was
Poway and Miami
and Chicago and New York
and Massachusetts
and should I list every city and state.

Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—at least nine dead.

Little did I know that three years later
I would move to Pittsburgh,
right across the street
from the scene of the shooting.

Little did I know that regularly
I would walk by a place
once filled with so much joy
but now filled with the faces of


Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—at least ten dead.

It is supposed to be a synagogue, a place for prayer and connection.
Yet, it’s a memorial to those who were murdered
it’s a monument to those who yearn for remembrance and change.

Active shooter at synagogue in Pittsburgh—eleven dead.

A smell of smoke emanated from the kitchen.
My piece of toast had burned.