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Demolition of the Tree of Life building begins to make way for new design

Demolition of the Tree of Life building underway
Demolition of the Tree of Life building underway 02:30

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Five years after the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history, most all of the Tree of Life Synagogue is coming down, paving the way for a new building and a new beginning. 

Demotion crews descended on the synagogue on Wednesday morning and began taking most of the building down. Survivors of the massacre, like Audrey Glickman, say it marks the end of a dark chapter and the start of a new beginning. 

"We want to come back," Glickman said. "And we want to do something big and positive for the community and ourselves."

After the massacre, it was a site of debate. While some wanted the synagogue restored, others wanted it torn down. But now 80 percent will be leveled for a new design: a multi-purpose center that will be a place of worship, a museum and a memorial. 

Of the three congregations, only the Tree of Life congregants will remain, as will their main sanctuary for worship services. But Michael Bernstein, who heads a new organization called Tree of Life Inc., says the rest of the site will be transformed into a memorial for the victims and the country's first museum dedicated to examining the roots of antisemitism.  

"It's one of the few sites in America where you can come and visit where history was made," Bernstein said. "Unfortunately, it's a dark history but a history nonetheless, and I think an opportunity to learn from that is going to draw quite a few visitors."

The organization has raised $30 million toward the construction goal of $50 million and an additional $25 million for endowments. The organization expects to close that gap through donations from around the world. 

Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, who co-designed the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site, the building will have a skylit atrium running the length of the building, signifying hope. 

"When Daniel Libeskind visited, his first inclination was that we need to have light emanate from this darkness and that from this tragedy it's important that we light our path forward," Bernstein said.

It will take a few months to demolish and clear the site. Construction is expected to begin this summer and take two years. 

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