Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation
|Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation|
|עֵץ חַיִּים – אוֹר לְשִׂמְחָה|
|Location||5898 Wilkins Avenue|
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
|Leadership||Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers|
Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation (Hebrew: עֵץ חַיִּים – אוֹר לְשִׂמְחָה) is a Conservative Jewish synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The congregation moved into its present synagogue building in 1953. It merged with Congregation Or L'Simcha in 2010, bringing its membership to 530 families.
Originally founded as an Orthodox Jewish congregation in 1864, it gradually moved closer to Conservativism. In 1886, it affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary Association (JTS), at the time an Orthodox institution, but which developed the Conservative ideology in the early 1900s. Tree of Life joined with JTS offshoot United Synagogue of America about 1916, formally connecting to the nascent Conservative movement.
Tree of Life Congregation was formed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1864 as a breakaway group from Rodef Shalom, an Orthodox synagogue founded in 1854 which began adopting Reform practices following the visit of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise to the city. The initial group of 16 members met in the home of Gustavus Grafner. Then called by its Hebrew name, Etz Chayyim (Hebrew: עץ חיים, lit. 'Tree of Life'), the congregation was chartered in 1865 and acquired land in Sharpsburg for use as a cemetery. The congregation met in temporary locations in the downtown area over the coming years, until in 1883 it bought a former Lutheran church property downtown. At that point, it became known by its English name, Tree of Life.
In its early years, Tree of Life was the city's center for Orthodox Judaism, and attracted Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. In 1883, it shortened the traditional Orthodox prayer service, and in 1886 became affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary Association, a rabbinical training institute which was at the time an Orthodox institution but which developed the Conservative ideology in the early 1900s. Around 1916, Tree of Life joined the national Conservative network, the United Synagogue of America.
In 1906, the congregation began constructing a permanent home on Craft Avenue in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The synagogue opened in 1907 with sanctuary seating for 750.[a] English-language prayers were introduced the same year.
Beginning in the 1920s, Tree of Life shifted further toward left-wing Conservatism under the direction of Rabbi Herman Hailperin, who led the congregation for 45 years. Among the practices Hailperin instituted were organ music during the prayer services, the elimination of the rabbinically-mandated second day of festival observance, the election of women to the temple's board of trustees, the calling of women to the Torah reading, and counting women as part of the minyan.
In 1953, Tree of Life moved into its present building in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The land for the new structure was gifted by then-synagogue president Charles J. Rosenbloom. The synagogue symbolically showed its ties to Israel with a cornerstone hewn from limestone quarried in Jerusalem. The structure initially opened with a library, kitchen, an arts and crafts store, a stage, and vestry rooms. In 1959 the congregation broke ground on a 1,400-seat sanctuary fronted by "rows of swirling, modernistic stained-glass windows illustrating the story of creation, the acceptance of God's law, the 'life cycle' and 'how human-beings should care for the earth and one another". In 1995, membership numbered 850 families.
Tenants and merger
In the 2000s, an aging membership and the migration of the Jewish community to suburban neighborhoods led to decreasing synagogue membership. Tree of Life began renting space in its building to other congregations. In 2008, Congregation Or L'Simcha (Hebrew: אור לשמחה, lit. 'Light of Joy'), founded by Rabbi Chuck Diamond in 2005, began holding services in the Tree of Life building. In 2010, the two congregations voted to merge and became known as Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation. The merger added 120 congregants to Tree of Life's membership rolls, bringing the combined membership to 530 families.
In April 2010, Congregation Dor Hadash (a Reconstructionist congregation also known as Dor Hadash) began renting space in the Tree of Life building. In 2017, New Light, a Conservative congregation, left its home of 60 years and carried its Torah scrolls in a procession to the Tree of Life building, where it began holding services in the basement.
The original Tree of Life congregation held Shabbat in the Pervin Chapel while New Light occupied the basement and Dor Hadash the front.
A mass shooting occurred in the Tree of Life synagogue during Shabbat morning services on October 27, 2018. A gunman entered the building shouting anti-Semitic statements and opened fire, killing 11 and injuring 7, including four police officers. The sole suspect, Robert Bowers, was apprehended at the scene.
The congregation elected its first spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Fried, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in 1898. The longest-tenured rabbi of the congregation was Rabbi Herman Hailperin, who acceded to the position in 1922 while in his early twenties, the same year he was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary; he actively served for the next 45 years, being named rabbi emeritus in 1968. The synagogue did not have a spiritual leader for several years after Rabbi Alvin K. Berkun's departure, until the merger with Or L'Simcha. Following is the rabbinical leadership of the Tree of Life Congregation:
- Rabbi Michael Fried (1898–1906)
- Rabbi Rudolph Coffee (1906–1915)
- Rabbi Morris Mazure (1915–1922)
- Rabbi Emeritus Herman Hailperin (1922–1968)
- Rabbi Solomon Kaplan (1968–1982)
- Rabbi Emeritus Alvin K. Berkun (1983–2006)
- Rabbi Chuck Diamond (2010–2017)
- Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers (2017–present)
The synagogue's lay leadership established a tradition of volunteering and support for Jewish social service activities. Alexander Fink, the synagogue president from 1873 to 1892, was also a founder of the city's Hebrew Benevolent Society and later served as president of the United Hebrew Relief Association. When the synagogue established its new home in Squirrel Hill, facilities were given over for meetings of junior and senior Hadassah, the Women's League for Traditional Judaism, Young Judaea clubs, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts troops.
- "Synagogue Life". Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
- Olitzky & Raphael 1988, pp. 317–8.
- Heineman 2010, p. 82.
- "1864: Tree of Life Congregation". Heinz History Center. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- Squirrel Hill Historical Society 2005, p. 110.
- Olitzky & Raphael 1996, p. 318.
- Olitzky & Raphael 1996, pp. 317–8.
- Adler, Cyrus; Jacobs, Joseph (1906). "Jewish Theological Seminary of America". Jewish Encyclopedia.
- Gurock 1996, p. 63.
- "Dedication of Tree of Life Synagogue" (PDF). Jewish Criterion. March 29, 1907. p. 1. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- Nadell & Raphael 1988, pp. 130–1.
- "New Tree of Life Building Will Have Double Link With Palestine" (PDF). Jewish Criterion. September 13, 1946. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- Pitz, Marylynne (November 5, 2018). "Pittsburgh's Tree of Life was founded when the Civil War divided the nation". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
- Associated Press (October 28, 2018). "Thousands in Pittsburgh gather for vigil after synagogue massacre". The Times of Israel. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- Tabachnick, Toby (September 15, 2016). "Tree of Life*Or L'Simcha, rabbi are parting ways". Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
- Chottiner, Lee (June 30, 2010). "Tree of Life, Or L'Simcha vote to merge into 1 congregation". Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
- "New Light Marches Torah From Old Synagogue To New Home (video)". CBS Pittsburgh. November 13, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- CNN (October 27, 2018). "Pittsburgh synagogue shooting leaves 11 dead, 6 injured". Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- Carlson, Adam; Kantor, Wendy Grossman; Keating, Susan; Pelisek, Christine (October 30, 2018). "Worshipers in Hiding, Waiting for Death: How the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre Unfolded". People. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
The New Light congregants had gathered in the basement, according to the AP. Dor Hadash was near the front of the synagogue for the bris and Tree of Life was in the the Pervin Chapel
- "11 people killed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, official says". CNN. 27 October 2018. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
- Tabachnick, Toby (August 16, 2017). "TOL*OLS welcomes Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers". Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
- Gurock, Jeffrey S. (1996). American Jewish History: The history of Judaism in America: Resisters and Accommodators. 5. KTAV.
- Heineman, Kenneth J. (2010). Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh. Penn State Press. ISBN 9780271043456.
- Nadell, Pamela S.; Raphael, Marc Lee (1988). Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313242052.
- Olitzky, Kerry M.; Raphael, Marc Lee (1996). The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313288562.
- Squirrel Hill Historical Society (2005). Squirrel Hill. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738537177.
- Commemorating Rabbi Herman Halperin's Tenth Anniversary at Tree of Life Congregation. Congregation Tree of Life. 1932.