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An accused gunman faces trial in Pittsburgh after a mass shooting at a synagogue


On October 27, 2018, 11 people worshipping at a synagogue in Pittsburgh were gunned down - among them, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest victim. Friends have said that despite her age, she was vibrant with a wonderful spirit. Rose's story will be one of many that people remember today as jury selection begins in the federal trial for the man charged with killing her and 10 other Jewish worshipers. From member station WESA, Kiley Koscinski spoke with survivors who are bracing for having to relive that day.

KILEY KOSCINSKI, BYLINE: Robert Bowers faces more than 60 federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of religious beliefs. The trial could go on for months as a jury decides whether to recommend the death penalty. That means the survivors of the three congregations - Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light - will have to endure an anguish that could last through the summer. These families are still navigating their grief, and it's impossible to know how the trial will intensify that.

DEANE ROOT: We need to be there.

KOSCINSKI: That's Deane Root. He was heading into Shabbat services when the attack began.

ROOT: But we can't put ourselves through a living hell of being in a trial situation every day for months because that's not healthy.

KOSCINSKI: Deane plans to be patient with himself on the days he can't bear to be in the courtroom. Pittsburgh's Jewish Community Center has been a space for a wide range of different therapies for survivors and the larger Jewish community - from talk therapy to group sessions, even nature walks in city parks. Deane joins those walks often.

ROOT: Soaking in nature - you know, being mindful of the space you're in in a different way than we do when we're very busy people going about our daily lives, you know? And it's just - it transports you.

KOSCINSKI: Continuing to practice Judaism in the face of this and other antisemitic attacks has been another lifeline.

DEANE ROOT AND DORIS DYEN: (Singing in Hebrew).

KOSCINSKI: Deane and his wife, Doris, sing hymns like Hinei Ma Tov (ph), a song about how good it is to be surrounded by siblings in faith.

Staying faithful is important to Carol Black, too. She was attending services at New Light Congregation when the shooting began at the synagogue. After hiding in a closet from the gunfire, she survived. Her brother, Richard Gottfried, did not. Carol says she never stopped attending services and has taken on more responsibilities within the congregation since the shooting. It's her way of honoring her brother Richard, who was very active in New Light.

CAROL BLACK: I think that that's what my brother would have wanted me to do and would have expected me to do - and really to pick up the slack where he's not there to do it anymore.

KOSCINSKI: Leaders at the Jewish Community Center say there's no one way to find healing.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) I want to hear somebody's joy.

KOSCINSKI: A regular drum circle meets at the facility to bang on a drum or tambourine and sing together. But most importantly, survivors say they'll seek support from each other to get through the next few months. Carol and Deane say they've been leaning on the other members of this tragic club for more than four years now.

BLACK: We started meeting one month after the shooting, and we've been meeting every month since then. And we take so much support from each other.

KOSCINSKI: The start of the trial will be retraumatizing for the families of Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light. They say though they'll be deep in uncharted waters, their souls will be steadied by the anchor of the bond they share with each other.

BLACK: I didn't know any of these people before this, and it has been of invaluable - it's just such a resource that I don't know how I would live without it.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) I want to hear somebody sing.

KOSCINSKI: For NPR News, I'm Kiley Koscinski in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOGS' "THREE-TWO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kiley Koscinski
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