Squirrel Hill: Mark Oppenheimer ’92 Discusses New Book

In a thought-provoking talk that drew an audience of more than 100 students and faculty members, journalist Mark Oppenheimer ’92 returned to the Island on Monday evening, November 1, to discuss his latest book, Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood. 

As part of the event, which took place in the Norton Family Center for the Common Good in Founders Hall, Mark also read an excerpt from his book and answered questions from the audience.  

Squirrel Hill focuses on first-person accounts of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and examines the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the world. The book, which took Mark more than 18 months to research and write, is about the strength of a community, Squirrel Hill, and its ability to understand and cope with the 2018 tragedy, in which a shooter entered the Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 people and wounding six others.  

“It is a sad, terrible story, but an incredibly hopeful book because what you see is the way people come together in a community to help and support each other in the worst of times,” Mark noted.  

After his informative talk, the author took questions from the gathered students about his writing and what motivates him as a writer. He shared that his interest in communities and how they work began when he was a student at Loomis Chaffee. His involvement in the debate and cross country teams on the Island helped him to form his ideas about how a person lives in a community and led to his later focus on religious studies as one aspect of a community. “A lot of who I now am was forged in my early years, at Loomis,” he reflected. 

After graduating from Loomis Chaffee, Mark earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a doctorate in religious studies from Yale University. He is a lecturer in English at Yale and the coordinator of the Yale Journalism Initiative. He also has taught at Wesleyan and Stanford universities. In addition to teaching, Mark has been a beat reporter for The Hartford Courant, a writer for The New York Times Magazine, an essayist for The American Scholar, Southwest Review, and Yale Review, and an historian of religion. Mark is also the author of 5 other books and hosts Unorthodox, the #1 Jewish-themed podcast in English (according to iTunes).  

Monday’s event was a collaboration between the Norton Center; the Center for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; and Writing Initiatives. All attendees received a free, signed copy of Mark’s book thanks to the generosity of the Carolyn Belfer ’86 Fund for Jewish Life and Dominic S. Failla Speakers Fund.