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North Hills Monthly

Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh Remind All that Love Wins

Dec 31, 2018 07:07PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Pittsburgh as we knew it was forever changed on Oct. 27, 2018 when a gunman killed 11 innocent people as they were worshiping at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Our city was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight.

Although Pittsburgh lost so many lives and shed so many tears on that fateful day, if there is to be a silver lining, it is that the senseless tragedy reverberated around the world, bringing love, support, prayers and fundraising efforts from all religious denominations. Interfaith services took place all over the world. A new city motto, “Stronger than Hate,” accompanied by a new symbol—a modified Steelers logo that replaced one of the symbols with a Jewish star—was created.

In a show of solidarity and as a way to add beauty and love to the Pittsburgh landscape, an informal grassroots group called The Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh came to be.

The crafting group was founded by Hinda Mandell of Rochester, NY. After a series of Jewish cemetery desecrations in the U.S. almost two years ago, including one in her hometown, she was inspired to crochet a Star of David with a heart inside, and a large heart with a Jewish star at its center.

“About 18 months later, the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue happened. I went into my yarn stash and found the exact same four skeins of yarn that I used to create these Jewish hearts at the Rochester cemetery. I wrote up a quick Facebook post asking if we couldn’t create Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh,” said Mandell.

She also posted in a Facebook ‘Craftivist’ group, which led her to meet Ellen Dominus Broude, also from New York, who responded enthusiastically. “We began coordinating this craft activism campaign and created the Facebook group Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh three days after the attack,” Mandell said.

What started as small effort grew exponentially—to date, more than 2,000 hearts have been made and hung, and they have come from all over the world including Qatar, Australia and Costa Rica.

Crafters have gotten very creative with the designs; they have been created out of Popsicle sticks, embroidery, stained glass, ceramic, plastic, and foam, just to name a few materials.

One of those crafters was Amy Jaffe of Fox Chapel, who made 11 stars, each one representing a victim of the tragedy. “Each star is made out of scraps of metallic, sparkling or velvet paper left over from classes that I taught at the Laurie Ann West Community Center or old craft projects,” she explained. “It was important to me that the paper was repurposed or left over from a larger piece of paper, because I wanted the stars to have a history, a connection to other people who had used the paper. I guess the idea is that we all come from the same cloth—past connected to present connected to future.”

Once the Jewish hearts were collected, they were sent to volunteers in Pittsburgh who met on installation day (Nov. 17) at Chatham University to sort through the hearts. Everyone received a bag of 11 stars and a flyer explaining the project so that store owners understood the meaning behind it.

Jamie Lebovitz of Squirrel Hill was one of those volunteers. “We hung them on door handles, outside stores, on trees, along benches and on telephone poles,” she said. She joked that she wanted to “go rogue” and hang some hearts outside of Squirrel Hill so that other parts of the city could be reminded that love is stronger than hate.

To that end, Lebovitz has hung stars at synagogues, churches, and at other landmarks in the city such as on the Roberto Clemente statue, the Art Rooney statue and more. Jewish hearts can also be seen outside of Mr. Rogers’ original home in Squirrel Hill.

“We thought that it would be a nice thing to do for the city of Pittsburgh, for others that live outside of Squirrel Hill, and for those in Jewish communities in other areas: that it would be a surprising thing to see that would bring them comfort and support and show love,” said Lebovitz.

Lebovitz said that the Jewish hearts are intended to be on permanent display in Pittsburgh, and all the cards and letters of support sent in by people will be collected by the Rauh Jewish Archives housed at the Heinz History Center.

“These people from all over the country and outside the U.S. were going to snip, stitch, clip, color, glue, paint, crochet, knit, weave and collage with the purpose of spreading goodwill and kindness,” said Jaffe. “I was overwhelmed that so many people from so many different backgrounds were thinking about Pittsburgh and shared the view that Love Wins! Creating my 11 Star of Davids became my very small contribution to a larger cause.”