Groundbreaking underway for new Tree of Life structure nearly 6 years after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

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Ground was broken on Sunday for a new building at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which will include a memorial and museum to combat antisemitism at the site of the deadly 2018 hate crime shooting.

The memorial will honor the victims of the mass shooting that left 11 worshippers dead and six others wounded. Most of the synagogue was demolished starting earlier this year, according to CNN affiliate KDKA.

“Almost six years ago, a white supremacist committed the deadliest attack on American Jews in our nation’s history right here,” said second gentleman Doug Emhoff at Sunday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

“It was (an) unspeakable act of terror, of violence, barbarism, fueled by antisemitic hate,” Emhoff said.

On October 27, 2018, gunman Robert Bowers burst into the Tree of Life synagogue armed with multiple firearms and shot congregants with an AR-15-style rifle. Four responding police officers were among those injured.

Those killed were David and Cecil Rosenthal, 54 and 59; Richard Gottfried, 65; Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Irving Younger, 69; Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Bernice and Sylvan Simon, 84 and 86; Melvin Wax, 87; and Rose Mallinger, 97.

Bowers was sentenced to death last August on 22 capital counts, 37 life sentences and 20 years each on four additional counts, CNN previously reported.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro commented Sunday on the rise in antisemitism across the United States “on college campuses and in our town squares,” calling the recent period “a difficult time in America.” In 2023, the number of antisemitic incidents outpaced the all-time high set in 2022 by 140%, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Shapiro said: “Let this be a place where individuals find strength to bolster the collective and to root out evil.”

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was also among the speakers at the ceremony in Pittsburgh.

“The new Tree of Life will not only be a tribute to those we lost and a hope for the Pittsburgh Jewish community for generations to come, it will also be a place to teach and share profoundly important lessons,” Blitzer said.

Other speakers included community and religious leaders, who emphasized the importance of standing up against evil and promoting renewal while highlighting the need for education and empowerment to combat antisemitism.

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