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Nov 6, 2018 3:12 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Resident Has Close Ties To Tree Of Life Synagogue, And Reflects On Life After The Shooting

Keith Green at his home in East Hampton. Mr. Green grew up in Squirrel Hill and was a longtime congregant at the Tree of Life Synagogue. CAILIN RILEY
Nov 6, 2018 5:28 PM

Keith Green has been thinking a lot recently about a tree that borders his driveway.It was hit by a car some time ago, hard enough to leave a sizable dent in the tree. To his fascination, the dent has scarred over, the tree bark bending and curving into the point of impact—evidence of the tree’s attempt to heal itself.

The tree has been on Mr. Green’s mind in the days following the massacre of 11 Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27. The shooting has had a profound impact on Mr. Green, not only because he is Jewish but because the Tree of Life was his family synagogue for decades.

Mr. Green, an East Hampton resident, grew up in Squirrel Hill, a Pittsburgh suburb where the synagogue is located, from the time he was a baby. He had his bar mitzvah at Tree of Life, and met and married his first wife, Barbara Lee Saroff, in the synagogue in 1970, when he was just 21 years old and she was 20.

He lived in Squirrel Hill for decades before moving to New York City, and ultimately settling in East Hampton, where he is semi-retired but works alongside his wife, Ann Ciardullo, selling real estate for Sotheby’s, with offices in both East Hampton and Sag Harbor.

“I’m fascinated by the fact that trees scar,” he said, tracing his hands over the area where the tree at his house was hit. “It’s literally healed over, like a scar. But the tree is strong.

“And I think that the Tree of Life, and American Judaism, and maybe even Judaism, is scarred by this—but the roots run deep. But there will forever be a scar at the Tree of Life.”

On Monday, just over a week after the shooting, Mr. Green sat in his picturesque home in Northwest Woods, reflecting on the shooting and his close personal ties to the synagogue where it occurred. His home sits at the end of a dirt road, in the midst of a storybook-esque forest canopy bursting with fall colors, a fresh covering of pine needles blanketing the road that leads to the automatic gate at the entrance of his driveway.

Sitting in his expansive yet cozy living room, overlooking a backyard with a small vegetable garden and homemade playhouse for his grandchildren, Mr. Green spoke about his memories growing up in Squirrel Hill—an inclusive, bucolic neighborhood that he said is the embodiment of the American dream—what it’s like to have an intense personal connection to a tragedy, and how to reckon with that kind of senseless violence and move forward.

Mr. Green described Squirrel Hill and the Tree of Life Synagogue with the kind of warmth that conveyed his love for the area and admiration for the people, of all faiths, who made the community what it is. He pointed out that he was born in 1948, sharing a “birthday” with modern-day Israel, and spoke of the devotion to the country evident during his childhood in the synagogue.

“When I was 5 or 6, we would, for 10 cents, buy these little stamps with a tree on it, and you would get a little book, and on each page was a tree, and it had room for 10 leaves. So ... you’d bring in 30 cents or 20 cents, or a dime, and buy leaves, and stick them in your book. And when you completed the book, you’d turn it in, and the money would go to Israel to plant trees,” he said. “[Israel] was a desert, and American Jews supported Israel. That was our reason for being at synagogue, to continue the great faith. I remember that distinctly, and how proud I was when I would get my book filled.”

Mr. Green spoke proudly of his heritage, with grandparents who emigrated from what was then Prussia, and made their lives in America, to his adult life, culminating in a 1970 wedding in the small chapel at the Tree of Life. His children, Josh Green and Rory Tahari, had their naming ceremonies at Tree of Life.

And just last weekend, he was at the Park Avenue Synagogue, to which he travels to worship with his son, Josh, and his grandchildren, 3-year-old Noah and newborn Barrett Lowey Green, who was named with the same initials in honor of his first wife, Barbara Lee.

It was a full-circle moment in a way, Mr. Green said, being part of a naming ceremony for a baby who is a direct descendant of people so closely connected to the synagogue where the unimaginable had just happened.

“If we were just bringing a new child into the world, that would be enough. If we were just naming her after her grandmother, who passed away a year ago, and doing it on her birthday, that would be enough. But the fact that the baby’s grandparents were married at the Tree of Life … the entire congregation gasped, and you heard people start to cry,” Mr. Green said, recounting the experience and the moment the rabbi revealed the information. “It was so life affirming. It was crazy.”

Continued affirmation of what it means to be Jewish and to worship in an environment of fear is something Jews have been wrestling with anew since the shooting, and Mr. Green spoke about that as well. For him, affirmation came last week, when he chose to reach out to the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, where he has never attended services.

What happened there, he said, gives him hope in a time of great sadness.

“I rang the doorbell, and a voice says, ‘Who’s there?’ and I said, ‘Keith Green. I’d like to talk to the rabbi.’ And the response was, ‘We’ll see if he’s around,’” Mr. Green recounted.

“The next thing I know, a man opens the door and says, ‘I’m Rabbi Franklin.’ And I said, ‘Rabbi Franklin …’ and I had tears in my eyes, and I said, ‘I was bar mitzvahed in the Tree of Life.’

“And he didn’t miss a beat. He just put his arms around me and said, ‘Come on in. Let’s sit.’ There was nothing else to be said.

“Clearly, with this shooting, a line in the sand was drawn,” Mr. Green continued, emotion in his voice. “It was the worst massacre of Jews in our nation’s history. But it’s going to bind us together—not just Jew to Jew, but man to man. And that’s the strength of humanity, and maybe one of the strengths of religion.”

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You can feel the pain and the hope in the words of Mr. Green. Hope will bind us together "man to man" as written here.
By pbsagharbor (8), Sag Harbor on Nov 8, 18 9:08 AM
Thank you for the lovely story about my Sotheby’s International Realty associate. A correction may be in order though- Keith is a hard working full time broker - not at all retired - and, though he and Ann are steadfast companions, they are not married.
By bambi (73), bridgehampton on Nov 9, 18 8:04 AM