Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life Congregation Announces Vision For Future

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Nearly one year after the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history that claimed the lives of 11 people worshiping inside a Pittsburgh synagogue building, the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation announced it will move forward with rebuilding plans that reflect resiliency, strength and community collaboration.

The building, which was home to three congregations who all lost members in the attack – Tree of Life, New Light Congregation, and Congregation Dor Hadash – has not re-opened since the Oct. 27, 2018 attack. Tree of Life has since vowed to return to the building in a demonstration of its faith with a pledge to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination.

Tree of Life’s vision for the future of the property calls for the site to be a “cooperative and collaborative space that brings together stakeholders in a shared environment that includes places for Jewish worship; memorial, education and social engagement; exhibit space for archival historical artistic expression; as well as classrooms and training spaces.”

“We are poised to become an incredible center for Jewish life in the United States,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. “When we re-open, and we most certainly will, I want the entire world to say ‘Wow. Look at what they have done.’ To do anything less disrespects the memory of our 11 martyrs.”

“With the vision now in place, we will engage in community planning processes to determine the precise future of the building site,” said Barb Feige, executive director of Tree of Life.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack the focus was on the needs of the victims’ families and survivors. Finding itself in unchartered territory, the plan took time to develop as the congregation dealt with helping its congregants to heal as well as settling into new temporary space in Rodef Shalom, and the new day-to-day demands of dealing with investigators, insurers, the hundreds of requests and extensive outpouring of support from across the country and around the world.

Now, even with an infrastructure in place to help deal with what has transpired over the course of the last year, the planning phase will still take some time until the vision comes to fruition. Feige noted: “We’re redesigning our future.”

This expanded model will include worship spaces for Tree of Life and other interested congregations, along with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and Chatham University – two organizations that have signed on to explore the collaboration – along with other community stakeholders interested in renovating/rebuilding with Tree of Life. “Having the Holocaust Center and Chatham share space with us would give us an educational component that we wish to provide as well,” explained Feige.

The vision plan also includes a memorial to the 11 lives lost last October.

The next step is to focus on a strategic plan for the campus renewal project, including the hiring of a strategic planning consultant. This consultant will have expertise in the Jewish community, and in building collaboratives and in physical plant-sharing models. A preliminary building plan is scheduled to be completed by late spring 2020 when an updated building timeline will be available.