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May 3, 2022 3:22 pm

Tree of Life Synagogue Shares Renovation Plans Three Years After Deadly Antisemitic Attack


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Design plans for the new ree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh. Photo: Lifang Vision Technology.

The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the site of the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history, will be rebuilt as part of an ambitious project that will also include the establishment of a museum, memorial, and center for fighting antisemitism, it was revealed on Tuesday.

The sanctuary in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood released design plans that show a new building on the same site that has been vacant for three years following the deadly October 2018 shooting, in which 11 people were killed and six wounded from the three congregations — Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash, and New Light — that shared the synagogue.

A new nonprofit organization, simply called Tree of Life, was created to oversee the reimagined space and help facilitate its mission. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh is merging with the nonprofit, which will be governed by a single board of directors and led by a CEO.

“It’s been a long journey, three and a half years,” said Tree of Life Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, a survivor of the shooting attack, in a press conference on Tuesday. “There is still much to do, but this is an exciting moment for all of us because … we’re now sharing with the community our comprehensive campaign to remember, rebuild, and renew. To  remember the lives lost and the lessons learned. To rebuild not only the physical structure, but the spiritual structure of our community.”

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Myers added that the new institution will “strive to eliminate antisemitism,” which he called “the world’s oldest disease.”

The new building will include a physical memorial called “Space of Memory,” developed with the help of families and the three congregations, which honors the 11 victims killed in the 2018 attack. Tree of Life plans to host memorial events that will honor the victims of the shooting, the Holocaust, and other hate-based attacks.

It was announced last year that Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind — who created the master plans for the post-9/11 World Trade Center site in New York City, as well as Jewish museums and Holocaust memorials — will be the lead architect of the new Tree of Life building. His studio will work on the project in collaboration with Rothschild Doyno Collaborative of Pittsburgh.

The complex will include a skylight along the entire length of the roof, called the “Path of Light,” which will begin in the synagogue and spread across other areas of the building toward the entrance, the Associated Press reported.

Carla Swickerath, a partner at Studio Libeskind, said at the press conference that the goal is to “remember and create space for that memory” in the design of the new Tree of Life building. The design plan, she explained, is meant to “reclaim the site, assert the hope and allow it to speak to so many more people. It’s the balance between the memory of what happened and the importance of an optimistic future.”

No completion time for the renovation plans has yet been set, and more information regarding the construction is expected in November. The congregation is still raising funds for the project.

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