Tree of Life Synagogue Today: Squirrel Hill Congregation Now

Tree of Life Synagogue 2019

Getty A memorial springs up near the Tree of Life synagogue the day after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018.

As the one-year anniversary approaches of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, the Tree of Life synagogue announced plans to rebuild.

Robert Gregory Bowers, now 47, had a self-described hatred for the Jewish people, and claimed they were engaging in “genocide” on “his people,” Pittsburgh Police Detectives wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed in his case. The congregation announced on October 18, 2019, they will rebuild the synagogue, which was badly damaged in the shooting. It has remained closed for nearly one year as the community rallies around the synagogue with the slogan, “Stronger than Hate.”

Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life Synagogue will be featured in a 60 Minutes special which takes a look at the city one year later, its recovery efforts, and gives survivors a chance to thank the police who ran into gunfire to save congregants as shots rang out in the quiet neighborhood known for peace and diversity.

Here’s what you need to know:

Pittsburgh Rallied Around the Congregation With ‘Stronger Than Hate’ Rallying Cry & Synagogue Announced Plans to Rebuild Near One-Year Anniversary

Just before 10 a.m. on October 27, 2018, a flurry of phone calls poured into 911 from congregants at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Congregants at the Tree of Life were celebrating the Sabbath when they were attacked in the middle of their services. After the attack, Robert Gregory Bowers, now 47, told police he was attacking Jewish people and claimed Jewish people were inflicting a “genocide” on “his people,” according to court documents. The quiet neighborhood is known for its diversity. Jewish temples line the streets alongside shops including Kosher grocers, global retailers and ethnic restaurants. That day, the peace of the neighborhood was shattered, but not permanently broken.

Soon after the shooting, a large memorial was set up outside the synagogue with crosses for each of the victims, piled high with flowers and stones, a Jewish symbol of remembrance. Pittsburgh rallied around the victims. “Pittsburgh is Stronger Than Hate” was the city’s response to the tragedy. Signs professing “Stronger Than Hate” stood outside many businesses and homes in Squirrel Hill and throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Tree of Life Synagogue was badly damaged in the mass shooting, and has not yet reopened. On October 18, 2019, rabbis announced they will rebuild the synagogue.

“We are a resilient community,” Sam Schachner, President of Tree of Life, said in a statement. “When something bad happens, we have three choices. We can either let it define us, let it destroy us, or we can let it strengthen us. We will not let this attack destroy us. We will not let this attack define us as a congregation.”

The new center will also include memorials to the 11 victims.

“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,” he said. “We will turn this tragedy into triumph, loss into life and love. We will be resilient, and we will be strong.”

11 People Were Killed While They Were Celebrating the Sabbath at Tree of Life Synagogue

Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland

Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough

Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and his brother, David Rosenthal, 54, both of Squirrel Hill

Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg and her husband, Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg

Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill

Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill

Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington

READ NEXT: How Many People Died in the Tree of Life Synagogue Attack? Tributes to the Squirrel Hill Victims

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