Listen to Idina Menzel‘s Moving Song From ’A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting’: Premiere

Four years ago on Oct. 27, a gunman killed 11 people after opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The deadliest antisemitic attack in American history is examined in the HBO Original documentary film,  A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, which debuts Wednesday (Oct. 26) at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

The documentary, directed by Emmy Award-winner Trish Adlesic and executive produced by Michael Keaton, Mark Cuban and Billy Porter, looks not only at the horrible act of violence, but how the community and people of all faiths came together to rebuild and learn from the past through interviews with those who survived the shooting, local leaders and more. It also looks at how antisemitic groups feel empowered in today’s climate. 

The film features “A Tree of Life,” an original song performed by Idina Menzel, which she and her songwriting partner Kate Diaz, wrote specifically for the project. Premiering above, the song addresses the Pittsburgh shooting, but also expands to a broader embrace of humanity.

Adlesic approached Menzel about writing the song.  “When I saw [the documentary], the bravery of the attack’s survivors and family members in telling such a difficult and personal story moved me beyond words,” Menzel tells Billboard via email. “I immediately recruited my songwriting collaborator Kate Diaz, and we asked Trish to send us three words for inspiration in writing the song.  She sent: honor, tribute, unity.  I wanted to use my music not only to support and honor these courageous souls, but to make sure the film reaches across the globe to inspire action on anti-semitism and hate in all forms.” 

As Menzel notes, the horror perpetrated that day and the response goes far beyond the individual shooting. “I am Jewish and the film touched me in a very personal way,” she says. “However, I wrote this song because the film’s story is a human one.  The film starts out telling an American-Jewish story, then a Pittsburgh story, and now in its ultimate form the film is a universal story told through the voices of the family members of those so wrongfully taken and those that survived on October 27th, 2018.”

Menzel continues, “The question of how we respond to the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting and what actions we must take to ensure that it never happens again goes directly to the heart of America’s democracy.  If any one of us is truly to be safe and free, then we have to ensure freedom and safety for all of our neighbors, regardless of creed, race, class, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity.”

Following its HBO premiere, the documentary will be available to stream on HBO Max. 

Melinda Newman