$6.6M awarded to Tree of Life synagogue, site of massacre

Flower pots, each with a name of one of the 11 worshippers killed on Oct. 27, 2018, when a gunman opened fire as worship services began at the Tree of Life Synagogue, line the fence surrounding the synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP)
The Associated Press

The state of Pennsylvania is pledging $6.6 million toward redevelopment of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 people in 2018 in the nation’s deadliest attack on Jews.

The state funding will help “transform this site that has been marked by horror … into one full of hope, remembrance, and education,” Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the attack, said Monday at a news conference with Gov. Tom Wolf.

Tree of Life has previously selected architect Daniel Libeskind to redesign the sprawling synagogue complex. Libeskind did the master plan for New York’s World Trade Center after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

The design is still taking shape, but the campus will include a memorial; worship and education spaces; and a wing for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. Its final price tag has yet to be determined.

Pennsylvania’s pledge comes from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Tree of Life was one of 16 community redevelopment projects statewide to receive a grant from the program.

Noting Monday was the last day of Hanukkah, Myers told Wolf: “You’ve given Tree of Life a very generous Hanukkah present. Your timing is impeccable.” Myers then presented a menorah to Wolf, who accepted it on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania.

Wolf toured the synagogue and said, “it brought back the sadness, and the tragedy of that day.” He said Tree of Life is working to turn the building into a “welcoming place of reflection, of education, and most of all, of healing” that will serve not only its own faith community, but visitors from around the state and the world.

The defendant in the synagogue massacre, meanwhile, awaits trial on more than 60 federal charges. Prosecutors are seeking a death sentence for 49-year-old Robert Bowers, who has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities say Bowers opened fire during worship services inside Tree of Life in October 2018, killing eight men and three women and wounding seven others before police tracked him down and shot him.

The former truck driver expressed hatred of Jews before and during the rampage and later told police that “all these Jews need to die,” authorities have said.