Grieving Pittsburgh Synagogue Calls On Young Artists To Help Beautify Building

The Tree of Life synagogue, the site of last fall's mass shooting, seeks art that conveys peace, hope and healing.

A Pittsburgh synagogue is looking for art to beautify the site of its building as the people who worshipped there continue to recover from last fall’s attack, one of the deadliest against the Jewish community in U.S. history.

The Tree of Life synagogue is inviting teenage artists to submit “original, uplifting” works that express messages of “peace, love, community, hope, healing and resilience.” The artwork will be placed on temporary fencing surrounding the building, which has not yet reopened for worship services.

The project, dubbed #HeartsTogether: The Art of Rebuilding, seeks to “transform the temporarily vacant and dismal site into a thing of beauty.”

“It will reflect the strength and positivity that well-wishers shared with us in our darkest days,” the synagogue wrote on the project’s website. “It is one way we are beginning to give back.”

A temporary fence has been placed on one side of the Tree of Life synagogue.
A temporary fence has been placed on one side of the Tree of Life synagogue.

Eleven people were killed and seven wounded when an anti-Semitic truck driver opened fire at the synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. The suspect has pleaded not guilty.

Among the dead and injured were members of all three congregations that worshipped in the building ― Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash.

Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg, a Tree of Life board member, told HuffPost that the building was heavily damaged during the attack. The congregations are discussing whether parts of the structure should be demolished or remodeled, and holding focus groups to understand what survivors and victims’ families want. 

“We want to retain aspects that will make clear that it is the building we love, but want to make it different enough so that no one is traumatized by reentering,” Eisenberg wrote in an email.

Even after those decisions are made, it will take time to draw up architectural plans and complete construction, Eisenberg said. For now, the synagogue is partly surrounded by a chain link fence covered with weathered blue tarp. 

The #HeartsTogether project is open to those from age 13 through age 17. The teenage artists are being asked to reflect on themes such as unity, strength, gratitude, kindness, diversity and faith. The synagogue specified that the artwork should not include the words “hate” or “hatred.” Artwork that is deemed appropriate but does not make it onto the fencing will be displayed in an online gallery on the synagogue’s website. 

Submissions will be accepted online until May 31.

Eisenberg said they’re focusing on teens because congregants were impressed by how many young people reached out after the tragedy, sending cards, pictures and banners signed by individual students or entire classes. She said they were also inspired and heartened by teen survivors of last year’s Parkland school shooting, a group of whom visited Pittsburgh last weekend to participate in solidarity events. 

“Young people are leading the charge in the battle against prejudice and violence,” Eisenberg said. 

This article has been updated with additional information from Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg.



Thousands Gather At Vigil For Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Victims