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Friday Night Dialogues: Creating Love from Despair this Friday

Island textile artist and psychotherapist Susan Schrott will discuss the creation of the Tree of Life Quilt, made in memory of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting in October of 2018, at the Library’s next Friday Night Dialogues on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. over Zoom. Preregistration for this program is required and may be done at silibrary.org

On Oct. 27, 2018, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa. was attacked by a lone gunman during its regular Saturday morning services. Eleven of its congregants were murdered and six wounded in what was the deadliest ever attack on the Jewish community in the United States. The day afterwards, Ms. Schrott reached out to members of the Shelter Island community and by early Monday morning, she said, “the wheels were in motion” that enabled her to begin her work later that week at the Shelter Island School. Ultimately, more than 170 people were involved in the quilt’s creation, including school faculty and administrators, students, friends and family members. The piece was finished on March 10, 2019.

According to Ms. Schrott, The Tree of Life for Pittsburgh Synagogue measures 77” x 53” and is “entirely textile in the tradition of machine quilting.” All of its fabrics were hand dyed by her. The design includes leaves that are filled with messages of hope, healing and personal thoughts that the students and members of the community wrote. The center of the quilt has a hand-calligraphed prayer that her husband Jonathan contributed. Worked into the motif are 11 branches and 11 doves embellished with Swarovski crystals in memory of the 11 murdered congregants: Irving Younger, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, and Melvin Wax.

Although Ms. Schrott has been creating Tree of Life artwork for decades, she said that this particular piece was “on an entirely different level. For me, it was a social action piece. I knew that I could not do this myself, nor did I want to.” She felt that the project needed to involve children, “our hope for the present and the future,” and was ultimately able to involve students from the Island’s elementary through high schools, along with friends, family and neighbors. “In this excruciating time of darkness, we were not only able to create a piece of artwork filled with love but we also literally came together to hug, to talk about anti-Semitism, and all forms of hate and the power to have the choice to do acts of kindness and good deeds,” she recalled.  “From all faiths and backgrounds, everyone truly embodied the meaning of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. And we did this together. We proved that love, community, non-judgmental communication, and the joy of creating something for others, can help heal pain in the midst of unspeakable sorrow.”

Due to ongoing work at the Synagogue, Ms. Schrott has not yet been able to send the piece to Pittsburgh but will do so in November. This means that attendees at the Oct. 23 program will be able to see the masterpiece before it leaves Shelter Island. Please sign up for this Friday Night Dialogue at least 30 minutes ahead of time by going to the library’s website, silibrary.org. If you have any questions or experience problems with registering, please contact Jocelyn Ozelins at [email protected] or call the Library at 631-749-0042.

Next up on Nov. 6, author Kristin Joy Levin will speak on her new memoir, “The Butterfly Promise” at 7 p.m. over Zoom.