Painting and collage by Naava Katz, 2019
Portraits of the victims of the shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on 10/27/18.
11”x14” on Birch wood panel. Watercolor and collage. By Naava Katz.
On the night of the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I was getting my children ready for their bath and I felt what I can only describe as a whisper. I was lost in thought about the victims, feeling heartbroken, when the idea came to me that I needed to draw their portraits.
I began right there on the floor of the bedroom. A few photos of the people who had been killed began appearing online. I sketched their faces quickly, roughly. But that didn’t feel like enough. Later than night I sat down again and properly began to draw their faces. The victim photos began to spread across the internet, and compiled together they looked like a grim layout of a yearbook page. Little candid snapshots, out of context with mismatched lighting was all we had. I felt like we needed more.
I had no personal connection to any of the people who died. But I knew that every Saturday morning they gathered at The Tree of Life for a minyan to pray together. They called themselves, “The Minyanaires”. The media called them, the regulars.
I know who “the regulars” are at synagogue. My grandfather was a regular at his synagogue. My husband is a regular at ours. There were regulars at my childhood synagogue, and at the synagogue we take our children to now. If you’ve been a part of a Jewish community of any kind, you know who the regulars are too. They’re the ones you can count on to make the minyan early on a Saturday morning. They’re the ones who stand at the door and greet you with a hearty “Shabbat Shalom!”, even when you are embarrassingly late. They’re the ones who stay back to help clean up the kiddush without being asked. That’s why this tragedy felt so personal. I may not have known their names before, but I knew exactly who they were.
I continued painting the portraits. Eventually I knew those faces so well, they began to feel like friends. When I would begin a new portrait, it felt like they were happily posing for me, inspiring me from above to capture their expression just right.
I cut out tiny leaves to glue around each portrait. I wanted them to be surrounded entirely by fresh foliage. But after a few weeks, I needed a break. I wanted to release this art soon after the shooting, but it was beginning to feel overwhelming. I had so many leaves left to cut out, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.
This Rosh Hashana I told my rabbi about the project because I needed advice on what to do with it. I hadn’t touched the portraits for months but I knew it had to be completed and released into the world. She asked if I would start by sharing it with our congregation on Yom Kippur. That gave me the push to face it once again. Looking at the portraits, I realized why I was not able to finish all the leaves I thought I needed. The leaves represented life. They could not complete the circle around the portraits, because life was taken away on that day. Instead, I completed the circles with gold, which represents what we can fulfill for them, through honor and remembrance.
With this piece of art, I hope I was able to preserve a small part of the rich dignity and joyfulness of this community. The Minyanaires are all together again here, side by side as I imagine they would be, welcoming us in. Yes, we know exactly who they are.
How You Can Help
I encourage you to help share these portraits far and wide as we come closer to the anniversary on October 27. As the artist and copyright holder, I give permission for you to share the images and text online, with the following criteria:
Please do not crop, edit or filter the images in any way. You may re-share only these professionally prepared the images.
Please do not remove my name from the images and always include my contact information (with working links) so that anyone who sees this can reach out to me with questions.
You may not sell the images online or on products in any form.
The link to this entire post is: www.NaavaOnline.com/blog/minyanaires
If you would like to share in print, please contact me about appropriate files.
My contact information with the images and text should say:
If you do share, I would love to know about it. Please be in touch!
Thank you so much.