David Lauderdale

‘It’s never hit me before like this.’ Hilton Head woman knew six synagogue victims

Hilton Head woman ‘knew 6 of the people that were murdered’ in synagogue attack

Twyla Sable of Hilton Head attended the Tree of Life synagogue for more than 40 years when she lived in Pittsburgh. At a service held at Congregation Beth Yam, she read the victims' names after sharing that she personally knew six of them.
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Twyla Sable of Hilton Head attended the Tree of Life synagogue for more than 40 years when she lived in Pittsburgh. At a service held at Congregation Beth Yam, she read the victims' names after sharing that she personally knew six of them.

Twyla Sable has lived on Hilton Head Island for a decade, but she left a big piece of her heart on Squirrel Hill.

For more than 40 years, she and her husband, Bob, were active members of the Tree of Life synagogue in that walkable, tree-lined, urban neighborhood in Pittsburgh where few locked their doors.

She personally knew six of the 11 people killed by a lone gunman Saturday morning during the weekly Shabbat service at the synagogue.

“I say, God, they were such innocent people,” Twyla Sable said Monday. “They were all innocent people — and good people. I just find it very traumatic. It has shaken the soul, and you just have to try and bring back the pleasures of those people.”

When the nonstop texting started Saturday, Sable first thought of Cecil and David Rosenthal.

She knew immediately they would be at the service, and they would be at the door greeting and seating everyone who came to study the Torah beneath beautiful stained-glass windows depicting the creation of the world.

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“These young fellows had some disabilities, but they were brought to service every Saturday by their grandmother,” Sable said. “Their grandmother was Bob’s mother’s best friend in grade school. The brothers had their bar mitzvah there, they lived in a group home and had jobs, and there was nothing but good, all good, about them.”

On Saturday, they were both killed.

She knows Andrea Wedner, who was shot but survived, and her mother, Rose Mallinger, 97, who was shot and killed.

“She was a good and kind, kind woman,” Sable said.

“It’s so hard to understand how someone could do that. It’s never hit me before like this. We have been through a lot of mass shootings, but it wasn’t in my backyard, so to speak.”

Late Sunday afternoon, Sable was one of seven readers at a special service called by Rabbi Brad Bloom at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head.

She read “I Am a Jew Because” at a gathering called Solemn Day of Assembly for Solidarity and Community.

Bloom said 400 people came.

11 people were killed and multiple people were injured in a shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Oct. 27. Police said the suspect is in custody.

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“This is a Jewish issue today, and it is cataclysmic for us, but it is something that we as Americans ought to own,” he said Monday. “A hit against one should be a hit against all. Silence is a form of assent. We’re rejecting the silence.”

He told people they need to vote with their feet and show up — to be there for others. “When something like Mother Emanuel (church in Charleston where nine members were killed by a gunman in 2015) happens, we have to be there for them.”

Bloom said he also is concerned about how this “unexpected saturation of hate” is changing young people who have to be wondering what kind of world we are bequeathing to them.

Teenagers will hold a roundtable discussion about that world prior to a mayoral forum that begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Hilton Head Public Service District offices at 21 Oak Park Drive, off Mathews Drive. It is sponsored by the new Lowcountry Coalition Against Hate.

“All the candidates should be there,” Bloom said, “and they won’t talk about sewers and streets, but about the role of the mayor as a moral exemplar for the community.”

Twyla Sable, a past president of Congregation Beth Yam and a founder of what is today called the Hunger Coalition of the Lowcountry, knows all about the beefed up security at the island synagogue, which was in place prior to Saturday’s massacre in Pittsburgh.

But she’s still reeling at what happened on Squirrel Hill, where intellectuals and students from two universities and medical centers just blocks away, gave it a sense of community and diversity and peace.

“My children walked to Hebrew School,” Sable said. “And here we are. With not a pretty picture.”

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