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Tree of Life Synagogue to reopen as "symbol against hatred"

A year after a mass shooting left 11 people dead and six more injured at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the building has plans to reopen. Although a date has not been set, congregation officials say the reopening will serve as a symbol of tragedy turned into triumph.

The congregation plans to create a space where the community can gather for more than worship. They plan to create classrooms, exhibits and memorial, education and social events, according to the Associated Press. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said that doing so will ensure the center is "an incredible center for Jewish life in the United States."

"When we re-open, and we most certainly will, I want the entire world to say 'Wow. Look at what they have done,'" he said. "To do anything less disrespects the memory of our 11 martyrs."

Tree of Life Congregation announced the plans for reopening the 60-year-old building on Facebook with the hashtags "Stronger Than Hate" and "Stronger Together." 

The synagogue has not yet reopened since a gunman used three handguns and an AR-15 to attack the congregation on October 27, 2018. The shooter had a history of posting anti-Semitic sentiments on social media.

The building is home to three congregations — Tree of Life or L'Simcha, New Light and Dor Hadash. 

Tree of Life congregation will hire a strategic planning consultant to help with the final plans. Victims' families, incident witnesses, community leaders and congregation members will be able to sit in on eight listening sessions throughout the hiring process for the consultants. Tree of Life also plans to hire a fundraising consultant to raise money for the reopening. 

Sam Schachner, president of Tree of Life, said the rebuilding effort will be "victim-centered, collaborative, sensitive and caring" and that they "will not let this attack destroy us."  

"When something bad happens, we have three choices. We can either let it define us, let it destroy us, or we can let it strengthen us. We will not let this attack destroy us. And we will not let this attack define us as a congregation," he said in the announcement. 

Schachner later told the Associated Press that the future is "not about being the synagogue that was attacked." 

"It is about being the synagogue that survived, thrived and remembered who we are," he said. "We will turn tragedy into triumph, loss into life and love. We will be resilient, and we will be strong."

Tree of Life leaders have expressed that synagogues need to have more security measures in place, but have not mentioned if advanced security measures will be included in the reopening. 

The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and Chatham University will collaborate with Tree of Life to utilize the space, according to the announcement. Renovations will also include a memorial to commemorate the lives lost in the mass shooting. 

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