A Midwestern town and Tree-of-Life tragedy

My train of thought has pulled into the Tree of Life station. I can update you on the deadly anti-Semitic massacre that seems to me like yesterday, but was actually almost four months ago. I’m indebted to Sean Hamill of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for providing the facts and figures.
Of course, figures mean money, which always comes in quickly following a tragedy. What else can people do after the dead are buried and the wounded survivors are receiving care? Here, the figures are incredible. My old hometown received an astounding $10 million from many sources. And, donations keep coming in.
Adam Harrison of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is tasked with the tracking. Money came from T-shirt sales, from entertainment venues taking donations at their entrances and from GoFundMe campaigns. In one such campaign, an Iranian refugee graduate student raised $700,000 in just two days, and continued until his total was $1.2 million. (The North Texas Jewish community heard from this remarkable student, Shay Khatiri, an AIPAC activist when he told his story at the annual AIPAC dessert reception at the Hyatt Regency Sunday night.) About the donors — large and small, organizational and individual — Harrison said this: “People just wanted to help. The giving has been an expression of their grief, and an expression of their desire to help and heal.”
But here is the story of the most unusual fundraiser of them all. This story is remarkable enough to be remembered forever in a city now overrun with good deeds, and should stand out as a shining example of what good exists, even in the smallest parts of America.
Gurnee is a small Illinois town, 40 miles north of Chicago. In that town, Warren Township High School’s drama club was preparing for the final performance of its fall show, when word was released about Tree of Life. As a coincidence (but I can’t help believing this was all the hand of God at work), their play was: “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering Anne Frank.” An unusually somber audience for any student production anywhere heard an announcement before the curtain went up: This last night’s show was dedicated to the victims of the Tree of Life shooting. And at the end, the performers lit candles in honor.
Yet, this wasn’t the final curtain call. The school’s social worker and teacher, who directed the play, immediately emailed administrators. “This was not enough,” she said. “Can we do something else?”
The following Monday, when the 35-member cast and crew members gathered to take down the play’s set, they were told to leave it alone, because they would be performing one more show — a Tree of Life fundraiser. The next Sunday, Nov. 4, was set for their Anne Frank “encore.”
Using the week between the first scheduled closing and the additional performance, these students “…responded by posting fliers all over town, organizing a Facebook fundraiser, and getting the word out through social media,” according to their teacher — who isn’t Jewish herself. The school auditorium’s 150 seats sold out, with $3,000 raised at the show itself. An additional $2,000 came in from the kids’ online efforts. All of it was sent immediately to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Quite rightly, the final words were these that came from a truly inspiring teacher: “To do this, to be able to bless and support the people you are trying to recognize with a fundraiser — this was special. It was an honor to help.”
And here are my final words: Now I can get my mental train back on track again. But I’ll never forget this briefest of stops at an otherwise obscure Midwestern high school, where the best of all that America should stand for came to life in combat against the worst that ever happened here to our people.

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