Daniel Libeskind on his overhaul of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh – the forward

Daniel Libeskind, a New York City architect who descended to the depths of Ground Zero after September 11, 2001, visited Ground Zero in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday.

The son of Holocaust survivors, Mr. Libeskind will preserve and redevelop parts of the Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha Synagogue, the site of America’s worst anti-Semitic attack.

For Mr. Libeskind, chosen as the lead planner for the post-9/11 World Trade Center site, tragedy is an intimate companion. Here he saw the Squirrel Hill Synagogue Garden, Main Shrine, Chapel, Education Center, Social Hall, and Small Parking Lot.

While visiting the synagogue complex, he listened to the “inaudible voices.” It is not something easy to assimilate. There’s a human sound screaming at you, ”the architect said in an interview in Squirrel Hill on Friday. The synagogue occupies about an acre and a half of land on Shady and Wilkins avenues.

Mr Libeskind’s task is both to honor the memory of those who have died and to create space for an active congregation of 200 homes as well as the Holocaust Center in Pittsburgh, which is currently in Greenfield but is planning to relocate. in the synagogue.

“It is a public service to create a civic edifice, a welcoming edifice for all. Everyone has been affected here – people have seen it on television, ”said Libeskind.

Green and white trees in bloom on the synagogue grounds perfume the spring air. A long, high fence, adorned with artwork, is a reminder that the silent building is where 11 worshipers died on a Shabbat morning on October 27, 2018.

The shooter killed worshipers from Tree of Life and two other congregations – New Light and Dor Hadash.

Two other worshipers and four policemen were injured in the attack. The shooter is awaiting trial on federal charges, including violations of hate crime laws. He could be sentenced to death if found guilty.

When people finally return to the synagogue, Libeskind said, he wants them to feel “life is asserting itself in this place.”

On Thursday afternoon, the architect also visited the Hunt Stained Glass Studios in the city’s West End.

There, 14 stained glass windows from Tree of Life’s main shrine are dismantled, cleaned and restored. The main shrine was not in use on the day of the attack.

In the late 1960s, Nicholas Parrendo, an artist in the stained glass workshop, created the stained glass windows in close collaboration with Rabbi Herman Hailperin, who was the Rabbi of Tree of Life for 40 years.

In the studio, arranged on long tables, are the original scale drawings of the colored windows made by Parrendo.

Called cartoons, these are plans that show the windows and frames and will help studio artists restore the 14 pieces of art, each measuring 6 feet wide and 22 feet high.

The windows are made of pieces of French “Dalles” glass one inch thick; the edges of each piece are faceted to capture the sparkling sunlight. The technique involves using thick plates of square or rectangular colored glass that are either broken with a hammer or cut with a saw. The use of thicker pieces of glass creates more dramatic colors than in traditional stained glass.

Parrendo also created an English font inspired by the Hebrew letters and hand painted the commemorative text at the bottom of each window. He passed away in 2016.

Her son, David Parrendo, runs the stained glass workshop and her sister, Celeste, is an artist in the trade.

David Parrendo recalled that Rabbi Hailperin invited his Roman Catholic parents and three siblings to attend a Jewish wedding at Tree of Life on April 11, 1965, a date his late father noted in the project file.

It was the first time the Parrendos had attended a Jewish wedding, and David Parrendo recalled being moved by the rich symbolism of the ceremony.

The task of restoring the windows designed and made by his father began this year.

On a cold Monday morning in January, Bryan Nightingale, a master craftsman from Hunt Studios, stood on an elevator and began the delicate and difficult task of removing the 14 windows.

“I was glad I wasn’t in the elevator,” said Michael Eisenberg, former president of Tree of Life. He joined the stained glass studio tour on Thursday with his wife, Laurie Z. Eisenberg, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who wrote The Window Guide for Worshipers.

The first seven windows, on one side of the main sanctuary, show God creating the world. On the other side, seven windows show the Jewish people accepting the law of God.

The windows were installed in stages between 1966 and 1969.

It took two months to remove them all, Mr Nightingale said, as they were installed using a sticky substance called butyl putty.

“I ruined shoes. I ruined a pair of pants. I ruined gloves, ”Mr. Nightingale said.

Helped by Hunt Studios artisans Shane Nichols, Wade Lenhart, and Matt Lukasiewicz, M. Nightingale used a reciprocating saw and chisel to remove the mosaic windows.

In their place, the team installed painted wood and plexiglass so that the light could still penetrate the sanctuary.

After the showcases arrived at Hunt studios, rubbings of each were made on paper.

Every window has to be taken down and more than 50 years of Pittsburgh dirt will be removed from the glass mosaic, a process that involves the use of trisodium phosphate, dish soap, water and a lot of elbow grease.

In the spring of 2022, Hunt Studios will finish restoring and reinstalling windows.

There are also stained glass windows in the small chapel where 11 people were killed. They were created by Helen Carew Hickman, who was an artist and stained glass designer at Hunt Studios and mentor to Nicholas Parrendo.

Hickman’s windows represent various branches of Judaism, the importance of philanthropy, and key Jewish figures including United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and Henrietta Szold, educator and founder of Hadassah, who died in 1945.

Barb Feige, executive director of the synagogue, said Mr. Libeskind will work closely with Daniel Rothschild, founder and CEO of architecture and urban design firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative in the Strip District.

Over the past year, Ms Feige said, Mr Rothschild has met with survivors and members of the three congregations to discuss how to move forward while remembering those who have died.

“He started the process of what’s going on with the building on his own, as a caring member of the community who had the skills,” Ms. Feige said.

In 1995, Mr. Rothschild designed the Joseph and Violet Soffer Education Center at the synagogue, named after the late real estate developer and his wife. He also created a new main design for the site, Ms. Feige said.

Despite the passage of more than two years, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who runs Tree of Life, said reminders of the tragedy are everywhere – on lawn signs, in stores and when more violence occurs, like this happened when a transportation worker killed nine people in San Jose, Calif., last week before taking his own life.

“We will always heal. We will never be healed, ”said Rabbi Myers.

The Tree of Life faithful have been displaced twice: first by the killings, then by the pandemic.

“The live broadcast is here to stay,” Rabbi Myers said, adding that Tree of Life members will return to in-person services at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside on June 5.

Copyright (c), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2021, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

“Life asserts itself in this place”: Daniel Libeskind on his overhaul of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh

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