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Groundbreaking for new structure replacing Pittsburgh synagogue targeted in 2019 mass shooting


Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro were among the dignitaries marking the groundbreaking Sunday of a new structure replacing the Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 worshippers were murdered in 2018 in the deadliest act of antisemitism in U.S. history.

Plans for the new complex include a cultural center, sanctuary, educational center and museum along with a memorial to the worshipers from three congregations who were murdered on the Sabbath morning of Oct. 27, 2018. The new design is by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, whose previous works include Jewish museums, Holocaust memorials and the master plan for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center after 9/11.

“The end of our story is not victimhood, it’s about how we as Jewish people define ourselves and, out of the worst moments, our capacity to be resilient, to get up and to rebuild," said Carole Zawatsky, chief executive officer of the Tree of Life non-profit organization overseeing the project in tandem with the congregation of the same name.

Organizers aim to have the project completed by the end of 2026, she said.

Much of the original complex, which had been unused since the shootings, was demolished earlier this year. The reconstruction is being overseen by a new non-profit organization, named Tree of Life. The building will include worship space for the historic congregation of the same name along with space for other activities.

Survivors of the attack were also among the speakers at the groundbreaking.

Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president, has met with family members and survivors on multiple occasions.

The attack claimed the lives of 11 worshippers from Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life congregations, which shared space in the synagogue in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh's Jewish community. Two worshippers and five responding police officers were also injured in the attack.

The attacker was sentenced to death in 2023 after being convicted on 63 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death.

Zawatsky said in an interview that the project aims to honor the memories of the 11 who were killed and to combat the hatred behind such attacks.

“What we’re truly doing is looking at the root of all identity-based hate,” she said. “In a society where antisemitism is allowed to flourish, all forms of hate are allowed to flourish. It is an American problem.”


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.