Tree of Life reveals founding board of directors
New leadershipNew board seated as construction date nears

Tree of Life reveals founding board of directors

The new board begins its tenure at a time when visual progress is evident on the Tree of Life site.

Tree of Life building rendering with new memorial, the path in front of the building with stone markers. The organization has announced its founding board members. (Photo copyright Studio Libeskind)
Tree of Life building rendering with new memorial, the path in front of the building with stone markers. The organization has announced its founding board members. (Photo copyright Studio Libeskind)

The Tree of Life organization announced its founding board of directors, and it includes some familiar names to the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
Michael Bernstein, who served as the chair of the organization’s interim governance committee will continue in the position with the new board. He will lead a board whose members stretch across the Jewish communal, philanthropic, nonprofit, education and business worlds and includes members of the Tree of Life congregation, Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and the Memorial Working Group, as well as honorary member First Lady of Pennsylvania Lori Shapiro.

Bernstein said board members were nominated by a group of individuals who have been involved with the Tree of Life organization, including those on the interim governance board.

“We talked about what kind of board we wanted and the profile of those who we were looking to attract,” he said.

Once they started reaching out, he said, “Virtually everybody we asked agreed to participate.”

And while the Tree of Life is a “Jewishly rooted organization,” Bernstein said that the mission of the organization goes beyond the Jewish community and that it also reaches outside Pittsburgh. To that end, he said it was important to ensure the new board shared that vision and would be able to reach beyond its core communities.

The new board begins its tenure at a time when visual progress is evident on the Tree of Life site.

Demolition started in February in preparation for the construction of a new structure designed by Studio Libeskind in collaboration with Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. It will house an educational center, a museum that explores the roots and manifestations of antisemitism in the United States and the official Oct. 27 memorial on the corner of Shady and Wilkins Avenues.

Tree of Life CEO Carole Zawatsky said that it was important to involve people who play invaluable roles in the local community as they enter the next stage of establishing the reimagined Tree of Life.

“We are delighted to officially welcome our esteemed board of directors to the new Tree of Life,” she said in a statement. “I am eager to work with them to move us closer to our vision of a society that champions building connection and inspiring courageous action to create compassionate communities.”

In addition to Bernstein, members of the new board include:

• Meryl Ainsman executive director, the Philip Chosky Charitable Foundation and past chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
• Sheila Reicher Fine, chair of the Fine Foundation
• Max Gelernter, managing director of Barker Gilmore
• Steve Halpern, president of Woodland Management
• Alan Hausman, president of Tree of Life congregation
• Jason Kushner, managing director in corporate and institutional banking, PNC Bank
• Larry Lebowitz, shareholder, Dentons; board chair of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh
• Jeffrey Letwin, council at Saul Ewing; member of Tree of Life Congregation
• Ramsey Lyons, founder at Ramsey Lyons Design
• Warner Macklin III, chairman and managing director, FoxChase Advisors, LLC
• Kent McElhattan, chair of the McElhattan Foundation
• Jo Recht, president of Congregation Dor Hadash; member of the Memorial Working Group
• Sam Reiman, director, RK Mellon Foundation
• Diane Rosenthal, sister of David and Cecil Rosenthal, member of the Memorial Working Group
• Jeffrey Solomon, president of TD Cowen
• Lori Shapiro, first lady of Pennsylvania (honorary member)
• Andrew Stewart, partner at Silk and Stewart Development Group; chair of the Tree of Life Construction Workgroup
• Bonnie Van Kirk, trustee, Chatham University
• Anthony Williams, head of school, The Neighborhood Academy

Jeffrey Letwin has been involved in the project since its initial days. He joined the board after previously serving as the first chairman of the Tree of Life steering committee in 2019. He was also an ex-officio member of the interim governance committee.

He said that the work of the reimagined Tree of Life is important to the community and the world beyond Pittsburgh, “This is the site of the most tragic event affecting every Jew in America,” he said.

He said that the board’s focus right now will include the ongoing capital campaign, in addition to most likely working with other groups and organizations in its mission to combat hate, like the Eradicate Hate summit.

Letwin thinks that the rise of antisemitism, especially after Oct. 7, has amplified the need for the Tree of Life and its mission.

The Jewish community, he said, is dealing with the war in Gaza, the familiar antisemitism from far-right organizations and the new threat of antisemitism from the far-left.

The Tree of Life will reflect that.

“I think it makes it even more important,” he said. “We talked with Rabbi Myers in 2019, who was specifically interested in concentrating on anti-hate speech. That concept has to be fine-tuned to what’s happening now. We have developments now that go beyond what we originally conceptualized and includes more significant components of battling antisemitism and preserving Jewish history that deals with the Holocaust and other significant periods of antisemitic acts.”

For his part, Bernstein is enthusiastic about the future of the reimagined Tree of Life and the new board.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for us to move forward, and I think the board’s composition reflects the power in the region and beyond — that we were able to attract such capable and accomplished people who want to dedicate their time,” he said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org

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