This needs to be said. I’m not the religion I was raised with anymore than my father was the religion he was raised with. But this I believe. That synagogues, churches, mosques, schools and libraries are sacred places. These are places where people congregate in common cause. They go to elevate themselves. To become better humans. Guns do not belong in any of these places.

I wake up this morning to last night’s news of Lewiston. Of the horrible, senseless tragedy of another rampaging murderer with an assault rifle. I’m preparing to attend a Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Memoriam at the Rodef Shalom Congregation Temple. This is the fifth year anniversary of the mass shooting that rocked this quiet community and our entire country.

Beforehand I made a stop at the Tree of Life Synagogue where the infamous shootings actually took place. It is boarded up and fenced in. There is only one entrance; it is chained and padlocked. If a building can ever look like a tomb, this one does. But its congregation(s) survive, worship and testify at Rodef Shalom Congregation, less than a mile away. Their resilience is awe-inspiring.

I listen to a pale, softspoken, gentleman who called himself a reluctant survivor when he really is an unselfish hero who put himself in harm’s way. He and his best friend went back in to try to help the wounded. Only one of them came out alive. The speaker was among the mortally wounded, but he survives and testifies. He and other survivors speak the names of their deceased brothers and sisters with a lilting, solemn, “We remember them.”

I’m there to help people tell their stories. In two minutes. To camera, for delivery to their local reps. The other side of this issue tells stories. Weird, dystopian stories about wild conspiracies and why they imagine they need AR-15’s to face them. The people I’m with are telling the shattering truths of loss in their own lives. So I give them encouragement and a handful of pointers. I know how classic Hollywood and corporate communicators tell stories. But what do I know of the stories of people staring unimaginable loss and violent death in the face? I’m there to listen and learn. I listen to a doctor of palliative care (care of the dying) who wants an impartial ear for his two-minutes on the devastating effect of semi-automatic bullets on human bodies. I tell him he has a powerful story and I didn’t have anything to add. I’m flattered that he’d even want my advice.

I learned a lot from a former leader from Ceasefire PA who is a current policy director for an Allegheny County area State Rep. He had great pointers on how to communicate effectively with government leaders like his boss. He advised people to get right to the point. The point being why they were there to tell their story and what they hoped the telling would accomplish. These stories are heavy. They take an emotional toll. And they should—they should as long as we call ourselves human.

Among the 8 or 9 rotations of people who came to the “Storytelling Table” for advice and inspiration, the last two people I spoke with were 17-year-olds. By far and away the youngest of the participants. They weren’t survivors. They were there to support their parents. Speaking as a parent—mind 2x blown! But after they eagerly absorbed tips from the Storytelling Table, I asked them if I could interview them for and they said sure. Their interviews will be posted here shortly. They face stressors unlike my generation ever experienced, yet they are positive, irrepressibly upbeat and optimistic for their future. I find them so inspiring and it struck me just how important it is now, more than ever before, to hear the voices of young people speaking the truths of their lives and becoming the change they demand to see.

Next year the people of Lewiston will have their own remembrance. The survivors will say the names of their lost. We as a nation will share the burden of their loss and grief. We at want to hear what the young people of Lewiston have to say. Seriously if you’re a kid from Lewiston, let us know your thoughts. We want to listen to people like this brave girl who never thought she’d “grow up and get a bullet in her leg.” She asks the question that’s top of mind for all of us and particularly for young people. Why do people do this? I wish we had an answer.

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Dateline: Pittsburgh PA, October 26, 2023

Telling your stories about gun violence


Rick Weiss

10/26/20233 min read