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 Three Congregations, Victims' Families Announce Receiving Donations Through Tree of Life from Around the WorlD


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Media Contacts:  Saul Markowitz, (412) 977-8517; Lynne Glover, (412) 952-7770

Donations from Around the World Sent to Tree of Life Being Distributed to Victims’ Families, Survivors, Congregations, First Responders, and for Memorialization

Aftermath of Largest Anti-Semitic Attack in American History Prompted Support for Recovery and Rebuilding

March 9, 2020 – A generous outpouring of financial support followed the 2018 deadly attack in a Pittsburgh synagogue, where 11 worshippers from three congregations were murdered, and two others seriously wounded. Contributions totaling $5,453,421 were received by Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation through April 30, 2019; and the distribution of the donated funds is underway to victims’ families, survivors, congregations, first responders and for memorialization. 

In late August 2019, representatives from the three congregations – Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light – requested that the Independent Committee previously convened by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh provide recommendations on how the funds collected from around the world should be dispersed. The Independent Committee, a volunteer group of community leaders previously charged with overseeing the distribution last year from the Federation’s Victims of Terror Fund, unanimously agreed to the request. 

On February 13, 2020, the report of the Independent Committee—“Recommendations for the Distribution of Funds Held by Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha and Collected in Response to the October 27, 2018 Shooting”—was delivered to the three congregations.

The report noted that there is no single “right way” to distribute donations collected after such a tragedy. The Committee, it said, “sought to do the best job possible by following legal doctrine, thoughtfully applying precedent, taking account of its own experiences in developing a distribution plan for the Jewish Federation’s Victims of Terror funds, considering the particulars of this situation, being informed by Torah (Jewish law and wisdom), seeking an amicable resolution that would promote communal healing, and relying heavily on the collective wisdom and good judgment of Committee members.”

The Independent Committee report also noted that Congregation Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation, as tenants of the Tree of Life synagogue building, saw their own congregants killed and physically and emotionally injured. As such, the report stated, “It was generally understood by the Committee that many individuals who sent money to Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha probably were motivated by the suffering—and desire for healing—of all victims of this tragedy regardless of their congregational affiliation.” 

“One of the principles that guided the Committee’s deliberations relative to the funds received by Tree of Life was ‘shalom b’bayit’—the need to arrive at recommendations that would foster healing in the congregations, among victims’ families and harmony throughout the wider Jewish community,” said Barbara Caplan, co-president of New Light Congregation.

“All Committee members provided valuable and thoughtful input. As with the deliberations regarding Federation’s Victims’ of Terror Fund, discussions were respectful and open-minded,” noted Jon Pushinsky of Congregation Dor Hadash.

“Tree of Life, together with New Light Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash, who also lost cherished congregants in this attack, have been the recipients of so much love, goodwill and support, and for that we are grateful,” said Sam Schachner, president of Tree of Life. “We will forever keep in our hearts the memories of those who were lost and those who continue to grieve and suffer. We also recognize the goodness of so many from around the world who cared enough to help remind us what we lost and why we remember.”

 Distribution of Funds

An important step in the process of honoring the intent of donors was to review all of the contributions to determine how the individual donor intended the funds to be used, according to the report. The Committee said it respected this information where it was available and “took great care to understand and honor donor intent when such information could be established.” 

Noting that “no amount of money can fully compensate for loss of life, serious wounds and congregational damage,” the report recommended that the majority of the donations be distributed to those who were most tragically affected. The Committee said it “hopes that these payments will serve as a comforting reminder of the expression of compassion that came from thousands of people around the world.” 

In keeping with the Committee’s recommendations, the $5.45 million in donated funds will be distributed as follows:

For the families of those killed and to two seriously wounded worshippers — $3,024,231

For the individuals trapped in the building — $215,162

For the individuals on the premises during the attack — $23,905

For Congregation Dor Hadash — $240,197

For New Light Congregation — $240,457

For Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation rebuilding — $1,275,871

Funds set aside to honor first responders — $200,000

Funds set aside for memorialization — $233,598

In addition to funds designated for victim families and survivors, the next largest amount has been designated to support the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation building fund to assist in the rebuilding of the synagogue where the massacre took place. Plans are in development for rebuilding the site. 

An additional $125,457 in donations received following the period of the Independent Committee's review and interest earned on all of the funds was also included in the distribution to individuals and the three affected congregations.

The Committee also recommended the creation of a joint three-congregation committee to oversee the disbursement of funds for memorialization.

According to a statement, “The Jewish Federation’s Independent Committee considered it an honor and privilege to advise the three affected congregations – Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light – on the distribution of funds collected in response to the unspeakable tragedy of October 27, 2018. Those looking to understand Committee decisions should refer to the report delivered to the three congregations. Having completed and documented its work, and out of sensitivity to victim and congregational healing, the Committee is not making additional statements to the media.”

Independent Committee

In addition to David Shapira, who chaired the committee, the Independent Committee was comprised of Susan Brownlee, former executive director of the Fine Foundation; Jared Cohon, president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University; Steve Halpern, president of Woodland Management; Mark Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh; Charles Perlow, chairman of McKnight Realty partners; and Nancy Rackoff, estates and trusts attorney at Eckert Seamans. In addition, leaders of the three affected congregations actively participated.

The three congregations of New Light, Dor Hadash and Tree of Life stated:  “We send our heartfelt thanks to all members of the Independent Committee for their time, efforts and devotion in helping us resolve a very complex issue. And, we are truly grateful for the outpouring of support that people have shown. We will continue to mourn our lost congregants, but we will honor their memories by healing, growing and strengthening the congregations they loved so dearly.” 

To read the full report of the Independent Committee, see below.

Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784