PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Leaders of a Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 worshippers were fatally shot last year say they want to renovate the building into what they hope will be a “center for Jewish life in the United States” and a symbol against hatred.
Plans unveiled Friday for the Tree of Life synagogue include places for worship; memorial, education and social events; classrooms and exhibitions.
“We are poised to become an incredible center for Jewish life in the United States,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. “When we re-open, 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.”
The building has not re-opened since the attack took place on October 27, 2018.
Tree of Life’s Executive Director Barb Feige says returning to the building will honor those killed on Oct. 27, 2018.
WATCH: KDKA’s Meghan Schiller reports live —
“With the vision now in place, we will engage in community planning processes to determine the precise future of the building site,” she said.
“We will start by engaging in a rebuilding effort in a victim-centered, collaborative, sensitive and caring manner,” said Sam Schachner, president of Tree of Life. “We will build a cooperative and collaborative space located on the current Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha site that brings together stakeholders in a shared environment. 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 times.”
The congregation is now planning to hire a strategic planning consultant. This hiring process is going to take place over eight listening sessions including victims’ family members, witnesses, community leaders, young people, and members from the congregation.
“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.”
Along with the strategic planning consultant, they will also hire a fundraising consultant in order to raise the funds to reopen.
“We now have a clear step-by-step process to get to a place where we have financial stability and a vibrant community,” said Schachner.
“Now we need a lot of money,” Feige told KDKA’s Meghan Schiller. “Because we need money to fix the repairs, we need money to do whatever it will be, whatever it will look like going forward, so there will be a part of the planning process (that) will also be a capital fundraising campaign.”
WATCH: KDKA’s Shelby Cassesse reports live from Tree Of Life.
Dave Tinker, the vice president of Achieva in Squirrel Hill says fundraising will be a large undertaking.
“Not just getting community involvement with ideas, but it’s definitely going to take money,” he said.
“I don’t know exactly what they have in mind, but obviously, it’s not going to be an inexpensive thing to do.”
Expensive? Yes. But Feige says it’s to make an important point that evil will not win.
Federal prosecutors have charged 47-year-old Robert Bowers in the massacre. They are seeking the death penalty. His lawyers say the case would be over by now if prosecutors had accepted his guilty plea in return for a life term without parole.
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