Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
Tree of Life Synagogue in PittsburghAlexi Rosenfeld

Leaders of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where worshippers were fatally shot last year, want to rebuild and renovate the building, turning it into what they hope will be a “center for Jewish life in the United States” and a symbol against hatred, The Associated Press reports.

On Friday, they outlined their vision for the Tree of Life building, where three congregations — Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light —gathered on October 27, 2018. A gunman, Robert Bowers, opened fire, killing 11 people and wounding seven.

The building in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood has not reopened since the shooting. Tree of Life leaders now envision a rebuilt space that includes places for worship; memorial, education and social events; classrooms and exhibitions. The mission is to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination.

“There was never any doubt that we would go back to the site,” Tree of Life Executive Director Barb Feige said, according to AP. “The congregation is a community. It survives without its building, but is committed to going back to that location.”

The building was in need of extensive and costly repairs before the shooting, Feige said. The rebuilding now extends initial plans Tree of Life had to expand co-operation and collaboration among the three congregations and with the community, she said.

In a statement, Tree of Life said rebuilding plans “reflect resiliency, strength and community collaboration.”

That collaboration likely will include the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s moving into the building, where neighboring Chatham University also hopes to share space, Feige said.

“We are poised to become an incredible center for Jewish life in the United States,” Tree of Life’s Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was leading Shabbat services when the shooting started, said 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.”

Rabbi Chuck Diamond, Tree of Life’s former rabbi, said that returning to the building will not only provide a stand against hatred, but also hope for Pittsburgh and other communities affected by mass shootings.

“When people pass by that corner, you can’t help but think of what happened and the poor souls who lost their lives. And it’s sad,” he said. “To rebuild, inspired by those wonderful people and their memories, and by honoring their memories, it sends a positive message to the entire world.”

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors rejected an offer by Bowers to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without the possibility of release.

In August, the US Justice Department said it would seek the death penalty for Bowers.

Bowers, who was armed with an AR-15 and three handguns, allegedly yelled “I want to kill all Jews” during the attack. He was initially indicted on 44 counts at and later pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in a federal courtroom.

In January, a federal grand jury added 19 charges to the 44 counts previously levied against Bowers. 13 of the new counts are hate crime violations and the others accuse him of obstructing religious beliefs and discharging a firearm during crimes of violence.

Bowers pleaded not guilty to the new hate crimes charges as well.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)