Black Lives and the Tree of Life


  • Emmai Alaquiva
  • Lauren Apter Bairnsfather


Participants in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 chanted, “The Jews will not replace us!” The real meaning of the Charlottesville chant was brought home on October 27, 2018, when forty-six-year-old Robert Bowers massacred eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. While many across the Pittsburgh region came out in support of the Jewish community after the shooting, some in the city’s African American communities observed that one morning of violence at a synagogue, in a relatively affluent neighborhood, received a universal outpouring of support, when daily violence in communities of color is overlooked. Black and Jewish communities share a history of coexistence in Pittsburgh’s Hill District—once home to early twentieth-century Jewish immigrants and formerly enslaved persons who migrated to Pittsburgh after the Civil War. A common struggle to establish roots united these populations, but not for longer than a generation. Over one hundred years later, Pittsburgh remains a segregated city, with Jews perceived as living on the white side of the divide. Recently the city has witnessed months of protests. Jewish activist organizations have been outspoken in support of Black Lives Matter. Local artists and organizations are exploring the potential of music and photography to connect us through our common humanity. Pittsburgh has reached a critical time not only to build bridges between our communities but also to walk across them, in the face of a common foe: White supremacy.