DRESSED IN A BLACK Pittsburgh Steeler's shirt, the woman sniffed back tears as she cleared her way through the still busy monument to the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, gently and unconsciously rolling a little stone into her right palm. I never planned to start the Steelers diary this week with a visit to Squirrel Hill, but you soon realize that there is no way to separate the two in this city: on this Monday morning, the two items above the fold in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are James Conner and the Squirrel Hill Massacre. There are more parallels: David and Cecil Rosenthal, two of the 11 victims in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States, were brothers of Michele Rosenthal, the former manager of the community relations of the team; head coach Mike Tomlin also lives a block from the synagogue, near Art Rooney II; two coaches Steelers players, along with the Hall of Fame at the back of Franco Harris, attended the funeral of the victims last week. In Baltimore, eight days after the attack, Ben Roethlisberger wore clogs with the now ubiquitous logo & Stronger Than Hate & # 39; with the star of David as part of the Steelers logo.
That logo can be found everywhere at this monument, this week held in Tree of Life – still framed by yellow police band and full of flowers, candles, rain-soaked plates and heartbreaking personal notes. It is painted on the stones that grieving people have left behind for the dead, according to Jewish customs. There are thousands of stones here now, some sitting dangerously four, five high on top of the nameplates and when you start thinking about the huge, collective carpet of grief they form, it is immediately overwhelming. The rest of the world may have gone on to the next mass shooting – another 13 deaths just 12 days later, in Thousand Oaks, California – but the suffering in Squirrel Hill lingers.
Even here, the Steelers mean something. Along with the stones, which contain the team logo, there is a man in a wheelchair who expresses his respect while wearing a Troy Polamalu sweater with throwback. A woman is standing by a steel barricade, bent in prayer, holding up a giant poster and asking people to put a steel curtain of love around the tree of life. "It is clear that everyone still feels the pain, but the Steelers have helped to unite this community and support these poor families," says Dr. Stanley Marks, a lifetime Pittsburgh resident, Pitt grad and the president of the nearby UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. "Forget about sports – this team is an important part of the community."
After leaving Tree of Life, I walked up a hill to the Commonplace Coffeehouse on Forbes Avenue, which had recently received a $ 650 donation – free coffee for everyone on Saturday, November 3 – of citizens in Newtown, Connecticut, who had witnessed the massive shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Only a few months ago I was working in Jacksonville on a story about a shooting at a Madden tournament. The killer walked right past a giant poster of the latest Madden NFL cover, with Steelers all over Antonio Brown. Sports used to be our escape, but the Steelers now represent the new normal: each of us connected, sometimes in multiple ways, with mass shooting.
As I walked back to my car, a strange thumping sound struck me in my tracks at the foot of the Jewish community center on the west side of Squirrel Hill, where the bell tower is in Hebrew, the flag half-mast and the steps remain covered with flowers. Eventually I followed the sound to a large bay window in front of the building where toddlers had been sitting on the windowsill in the shelter of the center and struck the glass until each passerby stopped what they were doing to smile and wave back to them. .
Even the bus drivers stopped at their stops to open their doors to wave to the children. As they did, the information screens flashed on the sides of the buses with the words Pittsburgh Strong.