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Photo by Brian Cohen

Profile by Leah Bailey 

Lulu Orr remembers exactly where she was on Oct. 27, 2018 when she heard about the shooting at the three Pittsburgh synagogues. She was at Calvary Church, just a quarter of a mile down the road from the Tree of Life.  At the same time her friend texted to tell her the news, she became aware of the  emergency vehicles’ shrieking sirens. She left church, rushed home and turned on the TV. For the rest of the day, she sat on her couch watching the news, stunned at the tragedy that occurred in her very own city. 

Orr is being recognized as a Righteous Among the Neighbors recipient  for her tireless work for the last four years as a clinical specialist care manager with Jewish Family Counseling Services where she works with survivors and witnesses of the shooting. Orr began working this job nine months after the shooting when Jewish Family Counseling Services decided that the victims of the shooting were in need of more help. Orr provides support, comfort and resources for people who have endured unimaginable trauma, and her work is appreciated by many across the greater Pittsburgh area. 

Orr has greatly appreciated her part in the healing of the survivors.

 “It’s just an honor to be a part of this group,” Orr said. “They are truly an amazing group of people that have all come together because of the most awful event we could ever imagine.”

While the shooting was a tragic event that caused tremendous loss and pain, Orr recognizes the unexpected beauty that came from such a horrific event. Many of the people in her support group did not know one another prior to the shooting because there were three congregations at the Tree of Life, but now each time they see each other they are overwhelmed with joy and appreciation. In fact, Orr herself had very little connection to the Jewish community before the shooting. Her only ties at that point were from friends, or friends of her children.Orr has simultaneously helped mend the losses and heartbreak of the individuals affected and made lifelong connections with them.

Churches of varying faiths have also connected since the tragedy.  In fact, the Tree of Life holds their high holiday services at Calvary Church. The head rabbi from Tree of Life and the head minister have become dear friends since the shooting.

Orr feels immense amounts of gratitude for her job, and those he has met through her work.

“I don’t even know if I have words to explain it,” Orr said. “It’s truly been an honor and a privilege to get to know these people as human beings, not just as survivors of this horrific day. Witnessing their processing of their pain, seeing their strength and resilience,  it’s been amazing…truly amazing.” 

Orr was a hospice nurse earlier in her career, and because of this work, she understands the concept of the loss of life, but nothing compares to the losses that occurred as a result of the antisemitic act of violence. 

“I’ve been around the end of life, death and dying for a long time, but it’s so different to be with people who have witnessed a mass shooting,” Orr said. 

While Orr specifically works with those who are witnesses and survivors of the shooting, she expressed that so many people were affected by the tragedy. 

 “Talk about it. Don’t keep it in. It’ll just grow,” Orr said. “If you have a friend, a family member, talk to them. The healing partnership is always here. Always, always here. Don’t feel like just because you weren’t there, you shouldn’t have feelings. Everybody was impacted. It happened in our very own town.”

While the synagogue shooting shocked Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh has shown the world what solidarity looks like. 

“What’s even more incredible is that they didn’t just come that first night,” Orr explained. “They have stood side by side with the Jewish community each day since the tragedy, helping in every way that those who were impacted needed. It was a beautiful thing that I had the privilege of witnessing.”

Orr hopes that through this tragedy, Pittsburgh, as well as the rest of the world can learn to be more considerate and thoughtful of others. 

“This is Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, and we have to act and spread that word. We need to spread it beyond Pittsburgh,” Orrr said. “Everyone needs to be more tolerant and more kind.”