Andrew Exler remembers well the day of the massacre in the Tree of Life synagogue.
His family belongs to the Tree of Life *Or Lsimchan community synagogue, where his parents and grandparents married and where Excler himself did his bar mitzvah. A Belkin Hill resident remembers the confusion that reigned on the day of the shooting, the 27th anniversary of the shooting. October 2018.
I sat at my desk in the kitchen and noticed that there were a lot of police sirens, which is very unusual. I remember wondering if there was a fire or something, Exler said. Then I got a message from my father about what was going on, and then everyone’s group messages started exploding. Then we just tried to find a way to calm everyone down.
For Exler, the rest of the day is a blur he can’t forget. Family and friends met at the Squirrel Hill Flower Shop, a family owned flower shop on Murray Avenue. He communicated closely with his family, friends and fiancée while they read the names of their neighbors and friends in the information that the dead were on. The shooting hit not only the Tree of Life, but also two other communities that share the building – the New World and Dor Hadash.
The shooting is forever engraved in Excler’s memory. But since then he has found many ways to bring love, compassion and hope into society. One of the ways he does this is through a tradition he started with friends and football fans from the Jewish community in Pittsburgh.
When Exler and his friends founded Menorahgate in 2016, it was a joke among friends. Menorahgate was an annual event in his circle of friends. Every year they meet for the Steelers game, which takes place at the tailgate of the Hanukkah season. Exler and his friends set fire to the menorah as they grow for the December celebration.
Menorahgate began as an event among friends of the family, but now it attracts dozens of parishioners and, in recent years, people from all over the world. Just a few weeks after the shooting in 2018, Exler and his group of friends decided to continue the tradition and turn Menorahgate into a fundraiser for the Tree of Life.
The game [we were planning to play] didn’t happen until mid-December, but we began collecting donations on Facebook in early November in hopes of reaching our $1,000 goal, Exler said. We finally raised $5,000 in three hours. It was crazy.
The fundraising campaign for Menorahgate was won after the first public launch of Facebook on 12 November 2018 in the local community and is slowly gaining popularity across the country. Soon celebrities and NFL players will share fundraisers on social networks. By the end of November, Menorahgate had raised $20,000 for the Tree of Life and on the day of the football match, the 16th anniversary of the founding of Menorahgate, the city’s largest city, the Tree of Life was inaugurated. By December 2018, donations had peaked at $30,000.
The impact of the event inspired Exler to become more involved with the Tree of Life and to revitalize the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. Excler, who graduated from the University of Ohio in 2013 and received his accounting certificate from Pitt College of General Education in 2018, is now 29 years old. He has a youthful aura that is easy for a recent graduate to understand. It is not immediately clear that he is leading a movement of positive change for the whole community, but those who know him never think about his abilities and his great love for the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.
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photographer Wasi Mohamed (left) and Andrew Exler spoke at a small meeting of Pitt students in October as part of the anti-hate speech : How can I fight the hate and hate conference?
Since Exler led a major fundraising campaign in Menorahgate, he has held several executive positions at the Tree of Life. He is a member of the board of directors, leads the social networks of the community and founded a group of young adults called the Young Jewish Community. This was part of Excler’s goal to engage the community from a young adult perspective.
I sat down with one of the rabbis for lunch to see where we could really help, because there is this hole in the life of the Jewish synagogue – there is a much older demographics and there is a family demographics, Exler said. If you’re young, unmarried and childless, you might think there’s no room for you.
Exler founded the Young Jewish Community with a group of members of the community, including his old friend Zachary Schwartz, who grew up in the Tree of Life and participated with Exler in Emma Kaufmann’s summer camp at the Jewish Community Centre.
Exler is president of the CJJC and Schwarz is vice-president and treasurer. The couple said that the goal of the EJC group was to plan activities for young members of the Jewish community, ranging from going out for a drink after the synagogue, to participating in pirate games in the group, to celebrating Jewish holidays together.
After filming Andrew, I and others got together and decided that it was our responsibility to make sure the future of our synagogue went ahead, said Mr. Schwartz. In the beginning we weren’t sure that [tree of life] had a future. So we brought this group together.
According to Schwartz, the group must bring back into the community those who went to the synagogue as children and young Jewish families who come to the synagogue as members in order to increase the number of people and members. Between the JJC, his presence in the social networks of the Tree of Life and the Board of Directors, Exler extends his influence beyond the squirrel hill of the Jewish community.
Exler said that he and another young woman on the board are lowering their average age and the ultimate goal is to return to the original Tree of Life that builds on Wilkins Avenue, as religious services are currently held at the Rodef Shalom congregation in Shadeside. Friends of Excler said he does an incredible job in supporting and uniting the young Jewish community in the city. One of these friends, David Kaplan, is new in Pittsburgh, and Exler’s work has helped him find his place in the city.
Kaplan, a reporter for WTAE-TV, originally came from Roanoke, Virginia, and moved to Pittsburgh in 2015. He met Exler during a fundraising campaign to combat cystic fibrosis.
Andrew and I held a fundraiser around the same time that year, and we were attracted to each other as Jews, and became good friends, which resulted in a good relationship, said Kaplan, a native of Shadow.
Kaplan, who worked on the Tree of Life during the Pittsburgh massacre, does a record of the shooting. He went to the funeral, talked to people who knew the deceased and shared this information on television and internet. As a Jew, it was incredibly difficult for Kaplan to report an anti-Semitic hate crime, and Exler helped him.
I’ve attended several funerals at Rodef Shalom, Exler said. I knew some victims better than others, and [the chaplain] tried to cover it up, and he was just a wreck. So I brought him in to sit with me and calm him down, and he really struggled for a while, but in the end he did amazing things.
According to Kaplan, the first-hand experience of Excler’s work lifts and moves the spirits.
It’s amazing how he would react. Many people of our age don’t want to be leaders after the results [of the shooting], Kaplan said. Think about understanding all the implications of what to do with the building, what to do with the surprisingly generous amounts of money that come in the form of donations. Not everyone of our generation thinks so: I want to get in there and do something.
Kaplan not only remembers the shooting that day, but also the sense of community it gave him.
I’ve seen the worst in mankind, but I’ve also seen the best in it, Kaplan said.
Thanks to Andrew Excler.
While the purpose of Excler’s work with the Tree of Life is to move forward and spread love and fellowship beyond the shooting, he and his family understand the importance of commemorating this tragic day. When he and his family barricaded themselves in White Hill’s flower shop, orders for bouquets for the victims’ funerals began to arrive.
The company is owned by Exler’s mother and her two sisters and two brothers and is run by her cousin Kathy Levin and one of her aunts. Levin and Exler are very close because they are the same age. The consequences of the shooting were serious, but through flowers Levin found a way to spread beauty and light in society – which Exler is now doing on a large scale.
I felt I was doing something like justice because I knew that the person who decided to do all this didn’t want the [community] to come together like this, Levin said. And it was also fun to do things that were really fun. Doing something beautiful at such a bad time and making this funeral beautiful was very important to me.
And for Excler, the opportunity to strengthen the community is only increasing. The easiest way to spread his message is through the Tree of Life social media sites, which are now supported worldwide.
When it happened, I just started a relationship with the president and the rabbi who started what I can do. Exler said. I knew I had to do something.spread love not hate quotes,i hate love quotes,spread hatred,hate thought for love,love hate message,love hate quotes download,i hate that i love you quotes,funny love hate quotes