Peter Smith – Associated Press
Pittsburgh (AP) – Guardians of the Tree of Life Synagogue intend to transform the site of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history and expand its mission.
Recently published project plans showcase the restored complex, which houses a shrine, museum, memorial and anti-Semitism center – symbolically and physically united by a dramatic mirror that runs along the entire length of the structure.
Organizers also announced on Tuesday plans to create a new nonprofit, Tree of Life, to work with the congregation of the same name, oversee the construction industry and offer education, museum exhibits and programs to combat hatred of Jews and other groups.
The synagogue building, located in the Swirrel Hill neighborhood, in downtown Pittsburgh, is empty from October 27, 2018. An armed man awaiting trial on federal charges, according to prosecutors, was motivated by hatred attacks, killed 11 believers from the Tree of Life and two other congregations – Dor Hadash and New Light – who shared the building.
People also read…
The new design is by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, whose previous work includes Jewish museums, Holocaust memorials and a master plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center after 9/11.
The organizers stated that they have no estimates or construction schedule yet. And many details of the interior, including the design of the memorial, are still being determined. The organizers are fundraising at the local and national levels.
But they see Tuesday’s announcement as a big step forward.
“We want to return to our spiritual home,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the attack and Rabbi of the Congregation Tree of Life / Or L’Simha, as it is officially known.
Plans include preserving the large main shrine of the synagogue, which was not used on the day of the attack.
Other parts of the complex will be demolished, including a separate chapel where most of the killings took place, although its historic stained glass windows will be preserved. The new addition, framed by sharp-edged exterior walls that were a hallmark of Libeskind’s previous projects, will include a museum, a memorial to the victims and a space for education and other programs.
According to Libeskind’s project, which unites the complex – with a total area of about 45,000 square feet – will be a dormer window covering the entire length of the roof. The “Path of Light,” as Libeskind calls it, will begin in the historic sanctuary and expand like a beam, through the programming realm to a new, safer entrance.
“Light is not only physical light, but also spiritual light,” he said.
Libeskind said that during the preparation of the project he met with the faithful and the survivors. He recalled the long history of the Congregation – which was founded in 1864 and dedicated the present shrine a century later – as well as its present reality.
“The building should be a response to the needs of society, but it is also a response after the attacks,” he said. “This is no longer the Tree of Life before the attacks. It’s a different space. “
The targets of the attacks were “Jews praying in the synagogue,” he said, and the design should reflect the new purpose of the building.
“It’s also about America, about American democracy,” Libeskind added.
Libeskind said the project “means something very profound to me” as a child of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States with their parents after facing anti-Semitism from the communist era in Poland.
“We were able to be Jews in America,” he recalled. – It was like another promised land. Who would have thought that America would become a country where Jews would be targeted for being Jews? ”
He said his family was even helped by the same Jewish refugee organization against which the alleged gunman spoke out online.
Since then, all three congregations, which have been the target of attacks, have held services in nearby synagogues. While Dor Hadash and New Light plan to stay in their new locations for the foreseeable future, Tree of Life members are looking forward to returning, Myers said.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful building,” he said. “However, what follows is also important. It creates the basis for what we want to do. “
Diana Rosenthal, whose brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal were among those killed at the Tree of Life, said she “would like this place to be restored in some form and shape.”
According to her, two men with intellectual disabilities were loyal participants and were in close contact with the faithful.
“It was their home,” she said. “There they felt safe. … I would like it to be a safe place again. “
Rosenthal helps plan the memorial. Despite the fact that the projects are not yet considered, “We all agreed that we want something with taste that reflects the lives we lost there,” she said.
The new nonprofit, which oversees the complex and educational programs, will team up with the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center, which has already announced plans to relocate to the renovated complex.
Programming will include exhibitions that tell about past and present manifestations of anti-Semitism, including the Holocaust and the 2018 attacks, as well as programs on ways to counter anti-Semitism and other identity-based hatred.
Barbara Shapiro, chairwoman of the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center, said the attacks in 2018 made her “want to do something to counter these acts of hatred that are becoming more prevalent in our world.”
Religious Coverage Associated Press is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.