A History Lesson On The Tree Of Life Synagogue

BY JST NEWS

On October 27, 2018, a mass shooting killed 11 and injured 6 innocent individuals in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The gunman, Robert Bowers, interrupted Shabbat morning service, opened fire while yelling anti-Semitic statements. The horrific hate crime has left many Americans haunted, especially inside an institution established 164 years ago.

Here’s a timeline to educate ourselves about the Tree of Life Congregation, and to remind ourselves that America’s beauty is based on a history woven by a mixture of religions and races. There are countless establishments, buildings, landmarks that represent the importance of multiculturalism in this great land.

1854 – An Orthodox synagogue

After Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise visited Pittsburgh, Rodef Shalom was a breakaway group first founded the Orthodox synagogue to adopt Reform practices.

1864 – Sweet 16

It began with 16 members who met in the home of Gustavus Grafner. Called by its Hebrew name: Etz Chayyim, it meant “Tree of Life.”

Chartered in 1865…

The congregation used the land in Sharpsburg as a cemetery, meanwhile it would meet in temporary locations in downtown where it bought a Lutheran church property in 1883 and transformed it into Tree of Life.

Orthodox Judaism

In the beginning, Tree of Life was Pittsburgh’s center for Orthodox Judaism drawing interests from Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

1886 – JTS

After the shortening of the traditional Orthodox prayer service, Tree of Life was connected to the Jewish Theological Seminary Association –  a conservative Jewish educational organization in NYC. JTS is one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism.

30 years later – USCJ

30 years later, the congregation joined the national Conservative network of the United Synagogue of America. It’s the world’s largest network of Conservative Jewish congregations to inspire current and future generations of Jews.

1906 – Permanent home on Craft Ave

Construction began, and the synagogue opened a year later with seats open for 750 people. English-language prayers were also introduced. 

1920’s – Left-wing Conservatism & female power

Under the guidance of Rabbi Herman Hailperin, Tree of Life became more left-wing. Hailperin, who led the congregation for 45 years, used organ music during prayer services, conducted election of women to the temple’s board of trustees, calling women to read the Torah…etc.

1953 – Squirrel Hill

The Tree of Life moved to its current location which was gifted by the former synagogue president Charles J. Rosenbloom. There are numerous features that symbolize Israel connections, including: a cornerstone hewn from limestone quarried in Jerusalem. The new building seats 1,250 people.

2000’s – Two becomes one

After a large migration of Jewish communities from Pittsburgh to the suburbs, Tree Life began to lose memberships so it rented out space to other congregations. After other congregations began to hold various services in the building, a merger was voted to bring a combined of 530 families together.

2018 – Mass shooting

A gunman interrupted a Shabbat morning service by yelling anti-Semitic comments and killed 11 people, injuring 6 including 4 police officers. 

Our hearts are with  and families who have lost loved ones.

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