Tree of Life shares vision of reopening
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A New Kind of SpacePlans for the future of Tree of Life Building

Tree of Life shares vision of reopening

“Community Collaborative/Cooperative" space envisioned

Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation plans to reopen its building. Although a date hasn’t been set, a plan has been adopted, according to a press release.

Upon reopening, the Squirrel Hill building, which has been shuttered since last year’s attack, will be a collaborative space, with places for Jewish worship, education, social engagement and memorialization.

Although such vision was shared by Tree of Life’s president Sam Schachner in a speech to congregants on Yom Kippur eve, planning and logistics will require time.

The process will demonstrate a commitment to thoughtfulness, noted Schachner.

“We will start by engaging in a rebuilding effort in a victim-centered, collaborative, sensitive and caring manner,” said Schachner, in a statement. “Our buildings are too old and damaged for a narrow, limited vision. We will create a place that is alive with a balance of the future and the past; a place that has the flexibility to change with the times.”

Prior to the shooting, building usage was increased by Dor Hadash and New Light congregations. The three groups, which each suffered losses in the attack, occasionally collaborated on programming but retained independent finances and prayer spaces.

The arrangement was billed as a “metropolitan model” by past-president Michael Eisenberg.

Tree of Life additionally partnered with NA’AMAT, Weight Watchers, AARP and Chatham University, which hosted numerous lifelong learning events at the building.

Such strategic arrangements enabled the three-story structure to escape a vacancy that existed after morning minyan, Eisenberg told the Chronicle.

The current vision as shared with congregants, and developed by a steering committee that met with community stakeholders, expands the former model and will be called a “Community Collaborative/Cooperative,” noted the congregation’s executive director Barb Feige.

Among those interested in exploring the project are the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and Chatham.

With those entities on board, the collaboration would “give us an educational component we wish to provide as well,” said Feige, in a statement.

For now, Tree of Life will focus on developing a strategic plan, and hiring a consultant with expertise in the Jewish community, building collaboratives and physical plant-sharing models, explained the executive director.

Project costs are not yet known, however, the idea is to hire a fundraising consultant by the end of the first quarter 2020, noted Schachner, who added that a preliminary building plan and updated timeline should be completed by late spring 2020.

As the congregation moves ahead, the vision will reflect matters learned from seven “listening sessions” held with victims’ family members, witnesses, community leaders and members of all ages from the three congregations.

Included within the vision is a plan for a public memorial commemorating the 11 lives lost, though it’s undetermined where such memorial will exist.

“We are committed to working with the victims’ families to explore this particular aspect,” said Feige.

In sum, the reopened Tree of Life will be a testament to its past and future, noted its leaders.

“Our future is not about being the synagogue that was attacked, it is about being the synagogue that survived, thrived and remembered who we are,” said Schachner. “We will turn tragedy into triumph, loss into life and love. We will be resilient, and we will be strong.”

Added Tree of Life’s rabbi Jeffrey Myers, in a statement, “When we reopen, 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.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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