The Minyanaires of The Tree of Life, Pittsburgh

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.

Naava Katz - The Minyanaires - Social Share.jpg

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.

Process Photos

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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:

  1. Please do not crop, edit or filter the images in any way. You may re-share only these professionally prepared the images.

  2. 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.

  3. You may not sell the images online or on products in any form.

  4. The link to this entire post is:

  5. If you would like to share in print, please contact me about appropriate files.

  6. My contact information with the images and text should say:

    By Artist Naava Katz | | Instagram @NaavaOnline

If you do share, I would love to know about it. Please be in touch!
Thank you so much.

Love, Naava

By Artist Naava Katz |   | Instagram   @NaavaOnline

By Artist Naava Katz | | Instagram @NaavaOnline

Figurative Mother & Child Series

I’ve been working on a new series of figure drawings inspired by the shapes of women and children intertwined. I began noticing how intuitively a woman’s hands, shoulders, fingers and hips know how to support a child. And likewise, the way children’s little limbs and heads nestle and wrap around us so naturally. There’s no road map for this, but we all seem to fall into the same shapes. You can see more on my instagram. Prints will be released soon. Sign up for my newsletter so I can let you know when the one you fall in love with is available.

A Kid You Should Know: My portrait of Greta Thunberg

My portrait of Greta Thunberg for #KidLit4Climate

My portrait of Greta Thunberg for #KidLit4Climate

I am an artist who paints children and now I am a proud participant in the @KidLit4Climate Art Campaign to show our support for Greta Thunberg and all children walking alongside her. We stand with you.

Greta is a 16-year old girl from Sweden. She was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her relentless commitment to raise awareness for and fight against global warming. She is a new hero for me to show my daughters what it looks like to speak out and fight for change, even if you’re still a kid and even if it's for a cause as big as climate change.

And speaking of speaking out, I’ve also learned that Greta was diagnosed with Selective Mutism, so my family’s support for Greta is particularly personal. We understand what she needed to overcome to reach this level of global awareness.

The #KidLit4Climate campaign was started by illustrator, Emma Reynolds. She writes, "The aim of the #kidlit4climate campaign is to amplify their message. We are the grown ups now, and hopefully we can get other grown ups to listen."

Greta, I was proud to paint your portrait.

Making Time For Art When You're A New Mom (4 simple tips)

Before I had children, if I had an idea for an illustration, I could dash into my home office and start working on it right away. I could stay up until two in the morning if I wanted, just to work on my art.

Then I had children. My office turned into the nursery. I couldn’t stay awake past 10 pm if I wanted to. There was no time for art just for art's sake, and I questioned whether it was something I should be making time for anyway. But here's what I learned:

If you are an artist, and you remove art-making from your routine entirely, you may be neglecting a big part of your best self.

I realized my approach to art-making was going to have to shift. I set out to find solutions to balance my creative life with this new, wonderful (also hectic, messy, sleepless) life that I had as a mother.

Wherever nap happened, art happened.

Wherever nap happened, art happened.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Make a traveling studio

I filled a small backpack with my most essential drawing supplies. Wherever my infant fell asleep for a nap, I pulled out the backpack and spread out next to her. Some days I threw my backpack in the front seat of the car. If the kids fell asleep in their car seats after a day in the park, instead of sitting in the car and waiting until they woke up, I opened my travel notebook and began drawing.

2. Set quick timelines and limited colors

I started working smaller and faster. I set my alarm so I knew what time to put down the pencil no matter what. Narrowing down supplies and pre-picking a small palette of colors actually made me more focused.

Sketching out ideas for an illustration on a post-it in the car.

Sketching out ideas for an illustration on a post-it in the car.

3. Create an Art To-Do list

Just because I had morphed into a busy new mom didn't mean creative ideas stopped coming to me. So in addition to my shopping list, I started an “Art To-Do List”. Any time I had an idea for a new drawing, I added it to the list.

Writing down my ideas gave them value, and that felt good.

Later I would scroll through the list to see what I really wanted to make. A lot of things never got made, and that was OK. But if an idea was important to me, I found the time to see it through (and sometimes I made it in the car!).

4. Create with your kids by your side

Spread out paper and supplies and start drawing next to your child. Chances are they are going to want to participate. Don’t worry about an end goal. Just draw. Let your lines overlap with theirs. Let them pick colors for you. Talk about the drawing out loud. You may be surprised to find how freeing it is for you, and how fun it is for them. And if you’re lucky, you just gained a half hour of creativity time alongside your favorite little person.

During a hot summer day with our cousins, I spread out a tin of crayons on the kitchen table. Everyone happily drew together and I rediscovered how fun crayons are!

During a hot summer day with our cousins, I spread out a tin of crayons on the kitchen table. Everyone happily drew together and I rediscovered how fun crayons are!

Maybe you can’t make everything at the speed and the volume that you used to. But if you use that as an excuse to stop producing entirely, you’ll end up feeling empty. 


Through your example, your children will learn that art can exist wherever we are, and with whatever material we can find. And you never know, they might be the one to inspire your next great big idea.

Do you know what it feels like to crave more personal art time? Let me know if you've found solutions that work for you.