Reflections on the Pittsburgh shooting by a University of Toronto student

The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Google Streetview)

My name is Rachel. I am 20 years-old. I am a Jew.

My last name Cohen ties me to the Kohanim— the high priests of Judaism. Declaring this is liberating but terrifying. I am afraid at times to reveal my faith, but I am proud to be a Jew.

Proud that my father made us stay home on Friday nights to celebrate the Sabbath and proud that at six-years-old I was able to recite, squeakily, the four questions at Passover with my family.

Proud that my parents moved us to Berlin, Germany for a year, where we visited the memorials and concentration camps, learning about our people’s past.

I am proud that I stood in front of my beloved congregation at the age of 13 in a bright pink satin dress and celebrated my bat mitzvah.

Were the Jews of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27th proud too?

I’m proud of my 95-year-old grandmother, Ruth Cohen, for sailing to North America in 1930 and creating a new life in Montreal. I’m also proud of my family that stayed in Radomsko, Poland. They suffered and perished at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz-Birkenau. While my grandmother was just beginning to line up for primary school, my ancestors were lining up for mass graves.

I can’t help but wonder and compare Rose Mallinger’s life to that of my grandmother. At 97, she was declared “the sweetest, lovely lady” — the matriarch of her family and a devoted member of the Tree of Life Synagogue. Why did she have to leave her congregation so suddenly? Why didn’t she get to say goodbye to her grandchildren? Was she proud?

I live in a country where difference is accepted. A cultural mosaic that is supposed to celebrate religious and ethnic diversity. I’m proud to be a Canadian with rights and a voice to speak out against hatred. Yet why do I still feel unsafe? Is it because I am a Jew?

Joyce Fienberg, 76,was also among the victims of Saturday’s attack. Growing up in Toronto and attending Holy Blossom Temple, this death feels too close to home.

Did Fienberg feel safer in the United States?

There are many questions that will remain unanswered. Her confirmation class photo will continue to hang on the wall at Holy Blossom in North Toronto.


I attend the University of Toronto, among the best universities in the world. In my third year of study, I am proud to major in criminological and socio-legal studies.

I’m also proud of my involvement in Jewish life on campus. As a “Young Jewish Social Entrepreneur” at Hillel, it’s my job to create safe spaces and events for Jewish students. How can I foster community and make all feel welcome on campus if I feel unsafe?

A day before the shooting, my friend declared: “There is no anti-Semitism” in Canada. Then why do I hear of students being called out in lecture for their Jewish statements or Israel-Palestine debates being taken too far? Why was Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy marching across campus spewing white nationalist propaganda?

I am proud to be a Jewish student, but how can we fight back?

I am proud to be a part of U of T Best Buddies, an organization that works with individuals with intellectual disabilities on campus. Brothers David, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59, were similarly supported with their disabilities and empowered by the ACHIEVA network in Pittsburgh.

I’m proud to welcome people to Best Buddy events, just as this pair took pride in greeting temple members to services every weekend in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.

On that grim Saturday, David and Cecil were murdered by an anti-Semite because they wanted to receive the members of their congregation with a smile, solely because they were Jewish.

This isn’t the first time an attack on Jews has occurred, and as long as anti-Semitism persists, it will not be the last. I don’t want to feel scared anymore.

I am a Jew. Rose Mallinger, Joyce Fienberg, David and Cecil Rosenthal and the eight other innocents of Squirrel Hill who were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were all Jews.

One of the deadliest hate crimes and acts of anti-Semitism in American history will not just be another headline on the six o’clock news. This loss of beautiful life will make our communities fight in unison.

We will hold meetings, we will develop strategy, we will appeal to politicians, we will strive to make all Jews feel safe. We will not forget this tragedy.

My name is Rachel. I am 20 years old. I am proud to be a Jew who is unafraid.

Authorities have identified the 11 people killed in Saturday’s mass shooting. The ages of the victims ranged from 54 to 97.

  • David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill
  • Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill (David’s brother)
  • Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township
  • Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough
  • Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington, City of Pittsburgh
  • Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill
  • Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland, City of Pittsburgh
  • Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg
  • Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg (Bernice’s husband)
  • Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill
  • Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill