Stories from the Tree of Life | Not in Our Town

Stories from the Tree of Life

A Not In Our Town Film and Community Engagement Project

A young girl pauses to pray in front of the Tree of Life Synagogue memorial

Stories from the Tree of Life (working title) is a public television documentary that profiles a community overcoming trauma in the aftermath of the attack on three Jewish congregations at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Through the eyes and experiences of survivors, local leaders, and diverse community members, the Tree of Life film will show the powerful display of unity in a moment of crisis, the actions in response to a continued threat, the resilience of a vibrant city, and what “Never Again" means in daily life. An accompanying civic and educational engagement campaign, presented by Not In Our Town, will spark action and provide tools for  communities across the country to address the dangers of anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.

About Not In Our Town: Films that Spark Change in Local Communities

Not In Our Town (NIOT) is a movement to stop hate, address bullying and build safe, inclusive communities for all. Our unique approach combines documentary storytelling with engagement, online and on-the-ground, to help local leaders build vibrant, diverse cities and towns. Launched by a PBS film campaign in 1995, Not In Our Town serves a network of hundreds of NIOT groups, schools and communities across the country who are working to create connection, bridge differences, foster inclusion and inspire action.

The first Not In Our Town PBS film told the story of ordinary citizens in Billings, Montana who stood together when their neighbors were under attack by white supremacists. In an act of support and solidarity, the people of Billings placed 10,000 menorahs in their windows after a Jewish boy’s bedroom window was shattered during the Hanukkah festival. Community members, faith and civic leaders, labor union volunteers, law enforcement and the local newspaper united in action and said, “No Hate, No Fear, No Violence, Not in Our Town.” The Billings story inspired communities across the country and around the world to find ways to address hate in their own towns. Since then, NIOT has produced five additional PBS documentaries and dozens of short films reaching millions through television broadcasts, online engagement, film screenings and town hall discussions.

Story Introduction

On October 27, 2018, during a quiet morning Shabbat service, a brutal act of hate took the lives of 11 people from three congregations at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, confirming the fears of many about rising anti-Semitism in this country. One week after the attack, we began our project, arriving in the once tranquil Squirrel Hill neighborhood. We interviewed Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, the Tree of Life congregation’s spiritual leader who survived the barrage of bullets from a killer armed with an AR-15. Rabbi Myers shared the painful story of that day and how his spirit was rattled, but somehow, not broken. Through the eyes of family members of those who were lost, city residents and leaders—both inside and outside the Jewish community—Stories from the Tree of Life documents the grief that enveloped the city after this violent act of hate, as well as the healing, hope—and action—that has followed.

The Pittsburgh community’s response to this massacre presents a model for communities across the country and around the world.  The film will show a city mounting a spirited defiance against hate and anti-Semitism and examine how a community with strong connections across different faiths, race, ethnicity and political beliefs can hold fast against a mortal threat.

Stories from the Tree of Life will not only connect emotionally with audiences and share often-unheard stories of hope and activism, but will be expressly designed as part of an engagement strategy and organizing campaign for on-the-ground change. NIOT will explore the conversations taking place in schools, the support from sports teams like the Steelers and Penguins, the reflections of law enforcement leaders, the role of the newspaper in covering hate, and how the mayor and civic leaders are working to bring people together. The film will follow Jewish, African American, immigrant and a broad cross section of  Pittsburgh residents as they continue to develop relationships that can ensure a safe and welcoming city for all who have faced the harm and threat of violence.

Follow the progress of the film by signing up for the Not In Our Town ENews. If you would like to support this project, please write to our film team: