A cycle of mourning follows the synagogue shooting

Judaism has rich, powerful traditions around death and burial. It is the responsibility of the living to care for and remember those who pass. The compassion of those traditions were on display this week, as Pittsburgh’s Jewish community laid 11 victims of the synagogue shooting to rest over four days.

Gene Tabachnick, a friend of brothers David Rosenthal and Cecil Rosenthal who were killed at the mass shooting at the Tree of Life, filled their graves after their funeral on Tuesday.

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Tradition calls for bodies to be accompanied by one of the living at all times by a hevra kedisha, or burial society, made up of volunteers. It is seen as one of the holiest acts a Jew can undertake.

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Following the shooting, the burial society accompanied the bodies of the deceased as they were moved from the synagogue to the medical examiner’s office. Volunteers took shifts guarding the bodies at all times, saying prayers.

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After many of the funerals, family and friends walked behind the hearse to escort the deceased to their final resting place.

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As the funeral procession for Jerry Rabinowitz made its way through the streets last week, people stopped on the sidewalk to watch it go by, and pay their respects.

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“We feel that it brings some type of peace to the soul, to know that there’s still people there, that there’s the holiness of prayer enveloping it,” said Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, head of Pittsburgh’s Orthodox burial society, who helped organize the effort.

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Jewish custom requires burials to occur quickly, in order to respect the dead. But that resulted in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community holding nine funerals, for 11 people, over four days.

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Several mourners attended funerals day after day after day, trapped in an endless cycle of grief as they said goodbye to multiple loved ones and family members.

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“It’s my obligation as a friend, as a Jew. You go through the motions. This is what you have to do. I’m doing it. I’m here,” said Jean Rosenthal, 90, who lost several friends in the shooting and attended their funerals over consecutive days.

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“We have to live a life of kindness, even for those who will never say thank you,” said Wasserman. “Sometimes you put everything aside. You just do.”