Author Mark Oppenheimer will lecture in person and on Zoom at Temple Emanu-El, in Providence, on June 11 about the devastating shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, and the aftermath of the tragedy in the synagogue’s Jewish community.
Oppenheimer will also discuss the compelling national implications of the antisemitic attack in October 2018, which killed 11 people. His talk will be based on his recent book, “Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood.”
Oppenheimer has a B.A. in History and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has taught at Stanford, Wesleyan, Wellesley, New York University, Boston College and Yale, where he served for 15 years as the founding director of the Yale Journalism Initiative. From 2010 to 2016, he wrote a biweekly religion column for The New York Times. He has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Slate, The Nation, Tablet, and numerous other publications, and is the author of five books.
Oppenheimer, who lives with his family in New Haven, Connecticut, also hosted a Jewish-themed podcast, “Unorthodox,” for eight years.
In a recent interview, Oppenheimer spoke about his decision to write about the shooting in the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and his extensive research into the subsequent implications for the neighborhood and beyond. The following Q-and-A has been lightly edited for clarity.
How did you decide to write about the Squirrel Hill shooting? Do you know people who live there?
My father grew up in Squirrel Hill and was a fifth-generation Pittsburgh resident. His great-great-grandfather helped purchase the land for the first Jewish burial ground in Pittsburgh. I still have aunts there. So the place is very special to me.
When did you first go to Squirrel Hill after the shooting, and with whom did you speak?
I first went a few weeks after the shooting, and I started with a couple of local Jews whose names I had gotten from friends. From there, I just asked for recommendations – I ended every interview by saying, “Whom should I talk to next?” And it went from there. I was curious how the shooting affected the whole neighborhood.
How did you gather information about the effects of the shooting on the neighborhood and over what period of time? How many trips did you make there?
I made 32 trips over a year and a half, right up to the onset of COVID. And I talked to about 250 people – everyone from rabbis to police officers to caterers. I spoke with anyone who might have been impacted in any way.
What do you see as the national implications, both for dealing with antisemitism at large and for focusing on Jewish security in particular?
I think we have no idea what security practices work, and we are probably making lots of mistakes – which I can discuss. In terms of national implications, I am more concerned about implications for the Jews – the most meaningful response to Jewish suffering is Jewish joy. We have to have more Shabbat dinners, we have to go to shul more, we have to have more Purim parties, we have to study Jewish texts. We must keep “Jewing it.”
The “Spring Book Discussion with Author Mark Oppenheimer” will be held on Sunday, June 11, 4-5:30 p.m., at Temple Emanu-El, 99 Taft Ave., Providence. To register and for the Zoom link, go to teprov.org/library.
The event is sponsored by the Rosen Library Committee at Temple Emanu-El, and there is no charge to attend. The first 25 people to register will receive a free copy of Oppenheimer’s book prior to the program, so they will have time to read it. The program will include book signings by the author.
For more information, contact Donna Marks, Rosen Library Committee co-chair at Temple Emanu-El, at email@example.com.
ARLENE S. SIMON is a member of the Rosen Library Committee at Temple Emanu-El, in Providence.