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Architect helps rebuild Tree of Life Synagogue: “Light has to be the message”

▶ Watch Video: Tree of Life Synagogue’s new beginning after deadly mass shooting

In Pittsburgh, architect Daniel Libeskind is beginning his latest project. Like so much of his other work, this one too is rooted in devastation.

“You walk through a site of murder, of a mass murder of the greatest attack on Jews in this country,” Libeskind told CBS News’ Jim Axelrod.

Libeskind, who navigated complex emotional terrain designing the Ground Zero site and the Jewish Museum in Berlin, will now lead the rebuilding of the Tree of Life campus. It has been closed since the shooting on October 27, 2018, when a hate-filled gunman murdered 11 and injured six during Shabbat services.

“It’s not just a walk through a disaster. You walk through the memory of what happened. And you think of the significance. What will this mean? What does it tell us?” Libeskind said.

The son of Holocaust survivors recently made his first trip to Pittsburgh to meet with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers and members of the congregation to examine the artifacts of the day and begin to consider a way forward.

“You have to walk through and imagine, ‘Where are traces of importance of this site? What is not just salvageable but inspires us still?” And how do we document the past as it folds, unfolds to a brighter future?'” Libeskind said.

It’s a delicate balancing act — marking trauma while wrestling hope from the pain.

“Light has to be the message of the place. Because we do live in darkness a lot of the time. And we saw the darkness and the evil of the events that befell on this congregation. But I think a building has to do something else. Has to give you a sense of inspiration, a breath of life,” Libeskind said.

“And there’s an excitement of wow, we can’t wait to see what this will become,” Myers said.

Pointing to artwork sent from around the world, including students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Rabbi Myers said hope could come out of horror. That thought has inspired a direction for the project.

“I’ve come to learn that through two and a half years, through letters, emails, cards, phone calls, from people around the world, complete strangers. There’s this vast silent majority out there in the world who are good, decent people,” Myers said. “The time has come that the silent majority become a vocal majority to say to the rest of the world, “This is unacceptable.”

“You cannot deny what happened on that site. You have to be able to integrate it in a meaningful way,” Libeskind said.

While it’s early in the process, Liebskind, Myers, and the Tree of Life community are beginning to frame a mission, building a beachhead in the battle between tolerance and hate.

“The Tree of Life will not be my story. It will be the story of the people who were there on that day. It’ll be the story of beauty, of fatality, of death but also of rebirth, of renewal, of inspiration,” Libeskind said.

The design project is expected to be completed early next year. 


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