Author Mark Oppenheimer Shares The Power Of Storytelling 

Author and journalist Mark Oppenheimer approaches storytelling through a lens of gratitude. This appreciation and deference for the profound impact of shared testimony has allowed him to navigate a career that has often included the weighty work of telling, and retelling, emotionally raw stories. 

Such was the case with his most recent work Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting & the Soul of a Neighborhood. The book delves into the aftermath of the tragic 2018 synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. 

“It’s a sad story, but a hopeful book,” said Oppenheimer, who spoke to Benjamin upper school students the morning of March 6 about his work and the resilience of the community in the face of tremendous loss. 

Oppenheimer, a Yale University graduate, said an undergraduate writing class at the university transformed his life. 

“I decided, this is what I want to do is meet people, and talk to them, and tell their stories. It’s what good teachers do also - give people new ways of seeing the world . . . the calling I realized I was interested in was sharing stories with people,” he said. 

Oppenheimer, who currently serves as Director of Open Learning at American Jewish University, shared how failure at the college level became a catalyst for self-discovery.

"Failure at Yale was the best thing that happened to me. I had to figure out who I was separate from my high school successes," he admitted, encouraging students to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth.

When it comes to his writing career, Oppenheimer said the writing isn’t actually the hard part - it’s having story ideas. 

As a former writer of the Beliefs column for The New York Times, these ideas have covered religious pockets across the country and touched on everything from the contemporary bat mitzvah, to nuns of a new generation, and the intersection of crossfit and theism. 

Regardless of career path, Oppenheimer encouraged students to approach their work as an art form. 

“Think of it as potential to be world changing and transformative . . . every work has a value that may reveal itself in time . . . Life is long, you keep developing new interests. You can change horses any time . . . You will find at some point you’re called to do something dramatic or profound . . . I counted, I mattered," he expressed, urging students to recognize their potential to effect change in the world.

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