Students see opportunity in Tree of Life tragedy

Oct. 27 was a normal day for the students at The Davis Academy in Sandy Springs. The weather was cool, 56 degrees and sunny, leaves were changing and the University of Georgia was preparing to play Florida in Jacksonville.

Little did they know, that morning, about 680 miles north in the historic Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, how much their lives would be impacted.

A Pennsylvania man is accused of storming the Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 people.

“On one hand, Monday morning was painful for all of us and another it was very affirming,” said Rabbi Micah Lapidus, director of Jewish and Hebrew Students at The Davis Academy. “As a Jewish school, we have the opportunity for prayer, and can talk about our tradition. … We have a long history of peaks and valleys.”

In response to the tragedy, the students at the Davis Academy launched a “Sending Love to Pittsburgh” campaign. Their goal was to collect and send 11,000 paper hearts, one for each victim.

The students want to keep the tragedy of that day on people’s minds and keep it as a talking point, Lapidus said.

“The new cycle moves quickly. You have fires in California and politics. The kids want to keep this in our heart and minds,” he said.

The rabbi said the students can’t change national policy, but they “can use voice to send meaningful gestures as kids do.”

Since launching the drive, the school has received an overwhelming response, collecting hearts from “families as well as organizations ranging from synagogues, schools, churches, book clubs and more, who were touched by the tragedy and inspired to show support,” according to the school.

Each heart has messages of love, hope, healing and strength.

From Oct. 27 to Nov. 27, they collected the hearts, which was 30 days following the tragedy, coinciding with Judaism’s traditional 30 days of mourning.

“Our students desire to do something and channel their efforts to engage people of all faiths and background has been amazing. Out of tragedy comes an opportunity for healing,” Lapidus said.

The hearts are museum quality art, from all languages and all ages (2-102), from around the country.

They will photograph a few that capture diversity, and send “to community of Squirel Hill, which represents the best of what America should be. We are all connected,” the rabbi said.