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Woman whose relatives were shot at Tree of Life among many giving blood

November 23, 2018

Elysa Schwartz had her family in mind when she gave blood in the aftermath of the massacre inside a synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

Three family members died that day. Another is recovering in the hospital.

Schwartz, 31, of Mt. Lebanon, hoped her blood would be used to help her cousin, Andrea Wedner, who was shot in the arm. Her relatives, Rose Mallinger, who is Wedner’s mother, and Bernice and Sylvan Simon were killed inside the Tree of Life Congregation.

“When I heard about the blood drive, I thought ‘this will really help people,’” Schwartz said.

Schwartz was one of the 271 blood donors who gave Monday at the Pittsburgh Penguins Blood Drive at PPG Paints Arena. Pittsburgh-based Vitalant -- formerly the Central Blood Bank of Pittsburgh - collected 254 pints that day, said Kristen Lane, Marketing Lead at Vitalant.

When the shooting happened Saturday, the donation centers were scheduled to close at 2:30 p.m.

“We stayed open well past 5,” Lane said. “I was still at the North Hills location at 7 p.m.”

From Saturday through Monday, Vitalant collected 1,323 pints of blood, Lane said. Typically, Vitalant collects about 200 pints over the same time period, she said.

Seeing Schwartz and others donate blood was moving for Lane. She said it was a confirmation of Mr. Rogers advice to look for the helpers in times of tragedy.

“Everybody helped out,” Lane said. “In this disaster that shook this city to its foundation, people really dug deep to help out.”

Schwartz plans to attend Mallinger’s funeral Friday at Rodef Shalom Temple in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. She expected Wedner to be well enough to attend the service.

Schwartz’s Saturday morning started off normally. She was getting ready for the day at her Mt. Lebanon home while scanning Facebook when she learned about the active shooter at the Squirrel Hill synagogue.

“I knew I had family there so I was worried about them,” she said.

She first learned from her father that her cousin, Wedner, had been shot.

“But he told me they don’t know where Rosey is,” Schwartz said, using Mallinger’s nickname.

Mallinger was a distant relative -- Schwartz’s grandma’s cousin -- but close because the family spent many holidays together. The cousins celebrated Hanukkah together and gathered for Seders at Passover. Mallinger was part of the glue that held these celebrations together, Schwartz wrote in a post on Facebook. Mallinger was one of the matriarchs of the family.

“It was unknown for most of the day, we weren’t really sure. I just kept hoping the entire day that maybe someone shuffled her into a neighbor’s house, and she didn’t have access to a phone or something,” Schwartz said.

Later Saturday, Schwartz found out that she had died. She was 97.

“She was a very, very sweet lady,” Schwartz said of Mallinger. “She was always willing to help out when she could.”

Schwartz then found out that Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, were also killed.

Schwartz said she has been overwhelmed. She wrote on Facebook that her knees went weak and her heart sank when she heard about the shooting because she was bound to know someone.

Monday marked Schwartz’s 50th blood donation, something she described as reaching a milestone that was inspired by her mother, who is close to her 100th donation.

Schwartz said it was her family that taught her to care for her community.

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