Tree of Life unveils new institution dedicated to ending antisemitism

The museum and memorial will both be dedicated to the 11 people from three Pittsburgh congregations who were killed in an attack on the Tree of Life synagogue.

Police officers guard the Tree of Life synagogue following shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, October 27, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOHN ALTDORFER)
Police officers guard the Tree of Life synagogue following shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, October 27, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JOHN ALTDORFER)

Three and a half years after the worst antisemitic attack on US soil, the Pittsburgh Jewish community is announcing the creation of a new national institution dedicated to ending antisemitism.  It will be called simply: Tree of Life. 

The institution will include a museum, a memorial and a center for education.  The museum and memorial will both be dedicated to the 11 individuals from three Pittsburgh congregations who were killed in an attack on the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018. 

The institution will strive to be an incubator for new ideas to counter antisemitism, and against identity-based hate in general. Its founding is rooted in the belief that eliminating antisemitism will reduce other forms of hate as well. 

“On behalf of the Mallinger and Wedner family we are humbled to be a part of such an innovated future for the Tree of Life building,” said Amy Mallinger, granddaughter of Rose Mallinger, who was among the 11 killed on 10/27. 

“We look forward to the new Tree of Life providing a safe place for our community to learn about the dangers of antisemitism as well as providing a home for the synagogue we have cherished our whole lives... We know this building will help to honor the memory of our beloved Rose Mallinger and carry on her love for the Jewish community.”

 A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October 2018. (credit: CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS) A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October 2018. (credit: CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS)

The new Tree of Life organization will be a separate entity from the Tree of Life synagogue, which will maintain its current leadership and worship schedule.  It will have its own CEO and Board of Directors separate from the congregation. In addition, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh will merge with the new organization, creating a single institution fighting antisemitism

“When I learned about the effort to transform this site of tragedy and hate into a site of hope, remembrance and education, I was inspired to support the reimagined Tree of Life,” said Michael Bernstein, chairman of the Tree of Life Interim Governance Committee (IGC), which is overseeing the development of the new 501(c)3 organization, its programs and the building. "I believe in our community’s resilience and our renewed mission to couple education with action to end antisemitism.”

The new building is designed by Studio Libeskind in collaboration with the Rothschild Doyno Collaborative of Pittsburgh. Studio Libeskind consulted with the members of the Tree of Life congregation, the victims' families, survivors and other community members in their design process.

"My response to the attack on 10/27 is to create a space imbued with Jewish ideals. The design focuses on the key Jewish dimension of bringing light into darkness and creating an open and democratic space within,” said architect Daniel Libeskind, who was selected last year as the lead architect for the reimagined building. “The Tree of Life will be a place that affirms Jewish life and sees it as a conduit of healing for the community and beyond.” 

The design will preserve some of the beloved historic elements of the original synagogue, including stained glass windows depicting American and Jewish historical moments. Central to the design will be the “Path of Light,” a dramatic skylight that will run the entire length of the building and connect all of the building areas via a main axis.

Along the “Path of Light” will be a museum, a space for reflection and remembrance called the Space of Memory, and a modernized sanctuary for worship and communal events.

“The Path of Light will bring a sense of optimism and hope to all the spaces within the Tree of Life, while creating the flexible and much-needed spaces to realize their mission of inspiring people of all backgrounds and faiths to unite against hate in our society,” declared Libeskind.

“Years from now, when our children and our children’s children ask what we did after 10/27, the answer has to be that we did our best to make the world a better place for you,” said Jeff Solomon, co-chair of Remember. Rebuild. Renew. 

“Our hope is to educate and mobilize people of all backgrounds to counter antisemitism by shining a light on the root causes of identity-based hate and fostering a greater sense of empathy for one another. We also hope to create an eternal memorial of those lost on 10/27 and to establish a safe place for prayer and Jewish life.”