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Architect Behind World Trade Center Memorial To Redesign Tree Of Life Synagogue

Keith Srakocic

The architect who designed the master plan at the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will lead efforts to rebuild the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, more than two years after a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshipers there.

“Our team is committed to creating a powerful and memorable space that addresses the worst anti-Semitic attack in United States history,” said architect Daniel Libeskind, who also designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin, in a statement issued by the synagogue Tuesday.

“When my parents, survivors of the Holocaust, and I came as immigrants to America, we felt an air of freedom as Jews in this country,” he said. “That is why this project is not simply about ‘Never Again.’ It is a project that must address the persistence of antisemitism and the intolerance of our time and affirm the democratic values of our country.”

"This is really going to be anew beginning and a new start," said Tree of Life president Carol Sikov-Gross at a press event at the site Tuesday.

The synagogue's landmark sanctuary, whose image was seen around the world during media coverage of the attacks, will remain, said Tree of Life officials. Other elements of the complex at Shady and Wilkins avenues will be demolished to make room for classrooms, places of worship, and spaces to reflect on the Oct. 27, 2018, attack. The redesigned building will also house exhibitions and programming by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

Studio Daniel Libeskind will team in the design project with a local firm, Rothschild Doyno Collaborative.

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said the new space, which will be on the Tree of Life site, is the beginning of the synagogue’s efforts to create a "Makom Kodesh," a safe space for the community.

“Our new and reimagined space will not only serve the needs of our congregation but will offer an open space to our neighbors and the broader community — here in Pittsburgh, across the country and around the world,” Myers said in a press release. “The space will be welcoming and accessible for people of all abilities and backgrounds, offering safe and secure places to learn, cultivate partnerships, remember and reflect.”

Synagogue officials posted a request for qualifications in January and received about a dozen submissions. “I think we were all very surprised when someone of Daniel’s stature would look at our little synagogue and want to do this project," said Sikov-Gross. "To have him want to come here for our community and for the Tree of Life is wonderful."

Survivors and relatives of those who were killed in the anti-Semitic shooting praised the announcement in a press release on Tuesday.

“This is an exciting next step in this long process of rebuilding. I am looking forward to entering a new Tree of Life building without fear or hesitation,” said Andrea Wedner, who was injured in the attack. Her mother, Rose Mallinger, was killed in the attack.

“We are hopeful that this new chapter for the building will be an opportunity to remember those who were taken and welcome more people in,” said Michele Rosenthal, whose brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, were killed in the shooting.

Synagogue officials said there is currently no budget or timeline for the project, but added that announcements about fundraising would be forthcoming.

Tree of Life executive director Barb Feig said that the other two congregations that previously worshipped at the synagogu, Dor Hadash and New Light, would not be returning to the site.

"They had to see to their own well being, and their own healing," she said.

Updated: May 4, 2021 at 4:28 PM EDT
This story was updated to include Tree of Life's in-person announcement of the selection.
Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: