A Fitting Memorial: Eleven New ‘Trees of Life’ in Atlanta

A Fitting Memorial: Eleven New ‘Trees of Life’ in Atlanta

After the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, a member of All Saints’ Episcopal Church was searching for a way to honor those lost. He found it with Trees Atlanta.

Leah Harrison is a reporter and copy editor for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Members of The Temple are pleased with the tidy spot they secured for the memorial red maple along Peachtree Street.
Members of The Temple are pleased with the tidy spot they secured for the memorial red maple along Peachtree Street.

Not long after the tragic shooting of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Ed Wooller, a member of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, was searching for a way to honor those lost. A volunteer planter with Trees Atlanta, he contacted Greg Levine, the organization’s co-executive director and chief program officer about memorializing the victims.

What followed was a complex chain involving Myrtle Lewin, a member of Ahavath Achim Synagogue and Trees Atlanta volunteer; Eric Robbins, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta; and The Temple’s Rabbi Peter Berg, president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association. The result was a decision to approach local synagogues about planting a tree in memory of each person slain on Oct. 27.

According to Lewin, Rabbi Berg acted as a central contact, reaching out to area rabbis. Trees Atlanta felt that synagogues were fitting locations for the memorial plantings because the tragedy occurred at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

In order to qualify for funding, the congregations had to be in the cities of Atlanta or Sandy Springs, areas included in the Trees Atlanta NeighborWoods program.

With the help of Rabbi Ari Kaiman, Shearith Israel members prepare plots for planting their Legacy sugar maples memorializing the Rosenthal brothers.

The synagogue plantings aligned with the program’s mission to install “front yard” trees that would be visible from the street and add to Atlanta’s tree canopy. They also appropriately memorialized the 11 victims of the Tree of Life shooting, Lewin said.

Under the NeighborWoods program, recipients agree to maintain the front yard trees, which are planted between October and March. In return, Trees Atlanta donates, delivers, plants or assists with planting the sizable trees, in 30-gallon pots.

Fittingly, the first nine synagogues to respond qualified. Two congregations were eager to plant two trees each, for brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal and husband and wife Sylvan and Bernice Simon. The additional locations represented the remaining seven people lost in the shooting.

Prior to delivery on Feb. 26, Trees Atlanta visited each synagogue to assist in site and native tree selection, helping to ensure the best locations and species were chosen for every location. Although a small donation was requested from each congregation, the trees were a gift from Trees Atlanta.

The tree varieties that are being memorialized at participating area synagogues are:

Red maples at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Beth Jacob Atlanta, Congregation Or Hadash, Shearith Israel and The Temple; a bald cypress at Temple Sinai; ginkgos at Congregation Bet Haverim and Young Israel of Toco Hills; and two ginkgos at B’nai Torah for the Simons.

Shearith Israel Memorializes Rosenthal Brothers with Legacy Trees

On March 3, a soggy Sunday during days of intermittent rain, members of Shearith Israel in Morningside gathered to plant two trees to memorialize the Rosenthal brothers: Cecil, 59; and David, 54.

They both had developmental disabilities from the genetic condition Fragile X syndrome, and were well-liked in their home community of Squirrel Hill.

Just as the two Rosenthal brothers were always at the entrance to greet the members of their congregation in Pittsburgh, Shearith Israel thought it only fitting to plant two trees in their memory to welcome people at the entrance to its synagogue as well, Rabbi Ari Kaiman said as congregants prepared for planting.

Memorial plaques will be erected at a formal dedication ceremony in the near future. Lewin, who guided the planters, told them that the Legacy sugar maples should grow to be 30 or 40 feet tall, with big, beautiful canopies.

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