Donations to attacked synagogues distributed
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Donations to attacked synagogues distributed

Contributions totaled $5,453,421

The Tree of Life synagogue building. Photo by Maureen Kelly Busis
The Tree of Life synagogue building. Photo by Maureen Kelly Busis

Contributions totaling $5,453,421, that were received by Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation following the Oct. 27, 2018, anti-Semitic attack, through April 30, 2019, are now being distributed to the victims’ families, survivors, congregations, first responders and for memorialization.

In late August 2019, representatives from the three congregations — Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light — requested that the independent committee previously convened by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh provide recommendations on how the funds collected from around the world should be dispersed. The independent committee, a volunteer group of community leaders previously charged with overseeing the distribution last year from the Federation’s Victims of Terror Fund, unanimously agreed to the request.

On Feb. 13, 2020, the committee delivered a report to the three congregations with recommendations on the distribution of funds.

The report noted that Congregation Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation, as tenants of the Tree of Life synagogue building, saw their own congregants killed and physically and emotionally injured. “It was generally understood by the Committee that many individuals who sent money to Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha probably were motivated by the suffering — and desire for healing — of all victims of this tragedy regardless of their congregational affiliation,” the report stated.
An important step in the process of honoring the intent of donors was to review the contributions to determine how the individual donor intended the funds to be used, according to the report, and the committee said it respected this information where it was available.

Noting that “no amount of money can fully compensate for loss of life, serious wounds and congregational damage,” the committee recommended that the majority of the donations be distributed to those who were “most tragically affected,” according to a press release.

In keeping with the committee’s recommendations, the $5.45 million in donated funds will be distributed as follows:

• For the families of those killed and to two seriously wounded worshippers — $3,024,231
• For the individuals trapped in the building — $215,162
• For the individuals on the premises during the attack — $23,905
• For Congregation Dor Hadash — $240,197
• For New Light Congregation — $240,457
• For Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation rebuilding — $1,275,871
• Funds set aside to honor first responders — $200,000
• Funds set aside for memorialization — $233,598

An additional $125,457 in donations received following the period of the independent committee’s review and interest earned on all of the funds was also included in the distribution to individuals and the three affected congregations.

The committee also recommended the creation of a joint three-congregation committee to oversee the disbursement of funds for memorialization.

In addition to David Shapira, who chaired the committee, the independent committee was comprised of Susan Brownlee, former executive director of the Fine Foundation; Jared Cohon, president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University; Steve Halpern, president of Woodland Management; Mark Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh; Charles Perlow, chairman of McKnight Realty partners; and Nancy Rackoff, estates and trusts attorney at Eckert Seamans. In addition, leaders of the three affected congregations actively participated.

“We send our heartfelt thanks to all members of the Independent Committee for their time, efforts and devotion in helping us resolve a very complex issue,” the three congregations said in a joint statement. “And, we are truly grateful for the outpouring of support that people have shown. We will continue to mourn our lost congregants, but we will honor their memories by healing, growing and strengthening the congregations they loved so dearly.” PJC

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