Pitt leaders speak out on Tree of Life tragedy

Outside Tree of Life CongregationFrom the Cathedral of Learning to Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill is just under 2 miles. The tragedy that killed 11 people at the Jewish house of worship last weekend was an emotional blow to Pitt’s community, Pittsburgh, the nation and the world.

Among the dead are Joyce Fienberg, a retired researcher at the Learning Research and Development Center, and Richard Gottfried, an alumnus of the School of Dental Medicine.

On Sunday, thousands of people filled Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and spilled out onto the front lawn to honor the dead and take solace from each other.

Many of Pitt’s deans and other leaders expressed their condolences and words of encouragement and support. Below are some of their remarks, click on each name to see the full text of the statements.

For more information on where to go for counseling help, where to donate or what events are happening related to the Tree of Life tragedy, go to www.at.pitt.edu.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher

I write to you with a sense of great sadness and at a time of enormous grief for our Pittsburgh community.

We are grieving the senseless murder of 11 innocent lives who had gathered in prayer. We are grieving those wounded during the attack. And we are grieving that the promise of seeking sanctuary in a place of worship has been shaken — violated by an act of pure anti-Semitism. And, most of all, we are grieving with those who have lost someone they love. 

Pittsburgh is a city both immense in its ambitions and intimate in its connections. It is hardly surprising that this tragedy has impacted members across our University of Pittsburgh community in innumerable ways. We have lost family members, colleagues, volunteers, teachers and friends, and this reality has left many of us — while still here and still breathing — struggling to carry on. …

Consider the ways in which you can not only express your sympathies during this sad time but also demonstrate your solidarity and support. There will be many opportunities to get involved. To show up. And get engaged. There will be public vigils, volunteer opportunities and chances to show kindness, compassion and support.

When compounded, these small and simple acts tell a powerful story. They remind the rest of world that, when struck with hate and divisiveness, this city — and this community — rises to action, leans on one another, tips in and grows even stronger.    

Jimmy Martin 
Dean, Swanson School of Engineering 

As we return to campus this morning saddened by the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill this past Saturday. Our thoughts, prayers and hearts are with the families and friends impacted by this senseless act. We are also resolute that hate has no place in our city, our university, and our Swanson School of Engineering, and that we must come together as a community to affirm our compassion and respect for each other. …

In my short time here as dean, I continue to marvel at the determination and fortitude of the people of Pittsburgh. Throughout its history, our city has been shaped by its many diverse neighborhoods. Likewise, the University of Pittsburgh has been a nexus of our city’s resolve, and while this tragedy will scar, it will only strengthen our resolve to be better for the generations who follow. As a neighbor from Squirrel Hill, Mr. Fred Rogers, once told us, “There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.”

I hope you will hold this moment in your heart, and help to make our community even stronger.

Mourners at Tree of Life

Bernard J. Costello
School of Dental Medicine

I am reaching out to you today while sadly reflecting on the tragic events that took place in our city of Pittsburgh yesterday. Pittsburgh is a strong, resilient, and close-knit community that prides itself on the compassion and welcoming nature of our people. This is particularly true for our friends in Squirrel Hill.

Everyone has been shocked by this senseless act, and we at Pitt Dental Medicine stand with the world in supporting our community during this time of need.

It is heartbreaking to report to you that one of the victims was a member of our Pitt Dental family — Dr. Richard Gottfried. Dr. Gottfried graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974 with a Baccalaureate degree in English literature, and received his doctorate in dentistry from the School of Dental Medicine in 1980. He had served as a volunteer faculty member of our school and regularly provided free care in the Pittsburgh community to those in need. His wife, Dr. Margaret A. Durachko, also received her degree from Pitt Dental Medicine in 1981. Our most heartfelt sympathies go out to all those affected by this tragic event, particularly those who cared for and knew Dr. Gottfried.

All of us will support those affected in many ways in the coming weeks — individually and collectively. One of the best ways we can step forward is to be kind and spread the kindness that helps define our city, despite this tragedy. We will rise up with kindness to one another.

Valerie Kinloch
School of Education

There is no other way for me to say this: I am deeply saddened and devastated, yet again. I am terribly troubled and horrified, yet again. And I am extremely concerned about how violence and hatred continue to invade us, even in the spaces and places we retreat for safety, comfort, solace, worship and love.

From our synagogues (e.g., Tree of Life Synagogue) and churches (e.g., Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church; First Baptist Church), to our schools (e.g., Sandy Hook Elementary School; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School), and various public spaces (e.g., grocery stores, movie theaters, parks), we must stand one with the other. In this standing, we must embrace and care for each other in the name of love and in the ongoing movement for justice. There is no other way for us to be in this world, but with love.

Dr. Arthur Levine
Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences

Like all of you, I am struggling to make sense of the terrible events that transpired this weekend in our city. I am deeply saddened that such violence and hate should erupt in a house of worship in Squirrel Hill, a warm, welcoming, and peaceful neighborhood that many of us have called home.

With great sadness, I’m writing to confirm that at least two of the victims shot and killed Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue were members of our Pitt Health Sciences community.

Dr. Richard Gottfried was a graduate of our School of Dental Medicine who also earned his undergraduate degree at Pitt. He was a volunteer faculty member who regularly provided free dental care to those in need. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Margaret Durachko, another graduate of our dental school.

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz was a valued and greatly respected teacher in Shadyside Hospital’s family medicine residency program, from which he also graduated as a young doctor. He is survived by his wife, Miri, who is a part of our Pitt Med family in neurological surgery. …

I’m especially grateful for all the Pitt medical professionals who did an outstanding job of caring for the heroic first responders and injured victims of this heinous act. Interprofessional teams, including those in emergency medicine and trauma surgery, responded brilliantly. Their dedication and courage provide sorely needed light in a very dark time.

Patricia Kroboth
School of Pharmacy

Let us come together to mourn the loss of life at a sacred place of worship and to support and comfort those who suffer the tragedy in a personal way.

Let us also use this tragedy as the opportunity to breathe fresh life into our values, which state that “We foster ... respect for the individual.”  As individuals and as the PittPharmacy family, let us stand strong in moving toward greater understanding of and enhanced respect for differences in beliefs and characteristics that bring vitality to our community.

Donald S. Burke
Graduate School of Public Health

This is a sad day for Pittsburgh. We mourn the senseless loss of life at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and agonize trying to fathom what could lead anyone to kill eleven peaceful strangers in a house of worship. To our Jewish colleagues and friends, know that everyone at Pitt Public Health stands side by side, resolute against anti-Semitism. And to all our students, faculty, and staff of differing religions, races, sexual orientations, know that we are firm in our belief that every peaceful human deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. In the coming days we will have time to consider how we at Pitt Public Health can help promote a culture of tolerance and mutual respect.

Betsy Farmer
School of Social Work

The past two days have shown us the worst and best of what our society can be. Saturday morning’s anti-Semitic attack is a stark reminder of the hatred and violence in our society. We grieve with the Jewish community, the Tree of Life congregations, and the families and friends who lost loved ones. But we also saw the immediate outpouring of love — coming together to offer support, coordinate vigils, and reaffirm all that is good about the world around us.

As social workers, we are committed to essential values of human worth and dignity, social justice, interpersonal connections, and peace. We believe in, and work tirelessly for, a world where all of us can embrace lives of meaning, following our beliefs and principles, surrounded in a network of caring relationships. As we witness what hate, divisions, fear, and incivility can bring, we come back to these core values to propel ourselves forward to ask what we can do to make the world a better place.

We move forward with purpose; we reach out to each other with kindness; we advocate and work to overcome systems of oppression and division; and we always remember that we must perpetually help create the world we want to inhabit! Please take care of yourselves and each other in the face of this tragedy, and look around you for all the signs of life, love, and possibilities.