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‘Why this synagogue?’ Squirrel Hill residents ask

November 23, 2018

As funerals commenced Tuesday for victims in the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting, longtime resident Kathy Oklin had a pressing question.

“Why? Why this synagogue?” Oklin said. “This will never be our new normal. This is not acceptable.”

Oklin was among dozens of mourners visiting Tree of Life Congregation on Tuesday morning. She ran into her neighborhood friend, Andrew Stewart.

“It’s surreal,” Oklin said while holding her dog Emma. “I never would have thought I would have to worry about wearing my Star of David or mezuzah in 2018.”

They exchanged hugs and tears, visited with each other’s dogs and reflected on how the events of Saturday’s shooting have rocked this otherwise tranquil and serene predominately Jewish Pittsburgh community.

“This isn’t the way the world is supposed to be,” Oklin said. “Squirrel Hill is a special place, and our hearts are broken.”

The friends reside on the same street. Both were inside their homes Saturday morning when the shooting occurred.

They didn’t venture out until Sunday, both said.

Stewart recalled past encounters with shooting victim Irving Younger, a former Squirrel Hill resident.

“He was friendly and outgoing and sat on his porch all of the time. He had two dogs--poodles-- and we would always visit while we were out walking our dogs,” Stewart said. “Everyone knew Irv.”

The friends, clutching tissues, spoke of their love of the neighborhood.

“My family has resided here for more than 100 years,” Oklin said.

She said she visited Tree of Life one week prior to the shootings.

Of the suspected gunman, Olkin said: “May he rot in hell.”

She recalled memories of slain victim Cecil Rosenthal. She said her children, now grown, would interact with him at the synagogue.

“He was a fixture at Tree of Life,” she said.

Other mourners placed flowers outside the synagogue, hugged, lit memorial candles and cried.

Squirrel Hill resident Mark Abramowitz, 53, has visited Tree of Life, walking a few short blocks, almost daily since Saturday.

“It helps me because it gives me a visceral connection--the shock is still setting in,” Abramowitz said.

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