Historic Rebirth: Pittsburgh Synagogue's Renewal Journey

Amid sorrow and resilience, the Tree of Life synagogue community begins a transformative rebuilding, marking a defiant stand against antisemitism.

Published June 24, 2024 - 20:06pm

4 minutes read
United States

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Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro joined other dignitaries in marking the groundbreaking event for the new Tree of Life synagogue structure. This significant ceremony symbolizes the start of a new chapter for a community that faced unspeakable tragedy in October 2018, when 11 worshippers were murdered in the deadliest act of antisemitism in U.S. history.

The attacker, responsible for the heinous act, was sentenced to death in 2023. Convicted on 63 counts including hate crimes resulting in death, the sentencing provides a semblance of justice for the victims' families and the community.

The plans for the new complex are thoughtful and inclusive, featuring a cultural center, sanctuary, educational center, and museum. These spaces are designed to serve as a memorial to the worshippers from the Dor Hadash, New Light, and Tree of Life congregations who were tragically killed on that fateful Sabbath morning. The new design has been crafted by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, known for his work on Jewish museums, Holocaust memorials, and the redevelopment of the World Trade Center after 9/11.

Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president, spoke at the event, emphasizing the mission to send a profound message to the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, the entire nation, and the world. “We must never forget what the poison of antisemitism can do,” Emhoff stated, underscoring the importance of remembrance and action.

Tree of Life's rabbi, Jeffrey Myers, and survivors of the attack also spoke during the ceremony. Their shared message was one of resilience and resolve. Rabbi Myers declared, “Today we announce, loudly and clearly, to the entire world that evil did not win -- that it did not chase us from our home, and it never, ever will.” This sentiment was echoed by Carole Zawatsky, the chief executive officer of the Tree of Life nonprofit organization overseeing the project along with the congregation.

Zawatsky highlighted the broader implications of the rebuilding project, which aims to combat the hatred behind such attacks and honor the memories of the 11 who were killed. She elaborated that the project addresses the root of all identity-based hate, positing that when antisemitism is allowed to flourish, all forms of hate find fertile ground. “It is an American problem,” she stressed.

Senator Bob Casey announced the allocation of $1,000 to develop new educational programming at the K-12 level, enriching the project's future outreach and impact.

The reconstruction is managed by a new nonprofit organization named Tree of Life, which formed specifically to oversee the project. Much of the original synagogue complex, unused since the shootings, was demolished earlier this year to make way for the new facilities, which will include worship spaces and multifunctional areas.

The goal is to have the construction completed by the end of 2026. As the community looks forward to this new beginning, leaders and members stress that the journey is not just about rebuilding a physical space but restoring a sense of community, hope, and resilience. “The end of our story is not victimhood, it's about how we as Jewish people define ourselves and, out of the worst moments, our capacity to be resilient, to get up and to rebuild,” emphasized Zawatsky.

This groundbreaking event, therefore, represents more than brick and mortar; it is a powerful statement of defiance against terror and a beacon of hope for future generations. It stands as a reminder that while evil acts can shatter lives, the spirit of community and the determination to fight hate can forge a brighter, united future.


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