It was previously a garage with a concrete floor. It was originally an outbuilding that served as a cemetery for New Light Congregation. Now it is a chapel with stained-glass windows and other mementos to honor the victims of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack.
The congregation dedicated the chapel last weekend in a private ceremony. It also paid tribute to the 11 victims of the massacre. Stephen Cohen, Co-President of New Light, said that three of its members had been “the religious heart” of New Light.
New Light was among three congregations that were attacked at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. The gunman, who authorities claim spewed antisemitic hatred online and at the scene, targeted the Tree of the Life synagogue building.
This small suburb is located several miles north of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill area, where the congregation has worshipped for decades. On Wednesday, the congregation opened the chapel for a media preview.
The New Light Memorial Chapel features a display of religious objects that belonged to the three martyrs: a shofar Richard Gottfried used for High Holy Day services; a Melvin Wax travel prayer book; and Daniel Stein’s biblical study guide.
Cohen stated that the three were “our leaders for the most essential aspect of congregational living.”
It contains displays about New Light’s founding in 1921 by Romanian immigrants fleeing persecution. It also features a stained-glass window with three stars in honor of Gottfried, Stein, and Wax that depicts a scene taken from the Torah passage.
A window adjacent to the memorial contains eight stars that honor the victims of the Tree of Life or Dor Hadash congregations. These groups were also present in the building at the time of the worst antisemitic attack in American history.
Carol Black, a survivor and sister to Gottfried, said that “it’s very meaningful.” It’s a beautiful tribute to the three people we lost.
It also provides a sanctuary for the congregation. The congregation had to sell its building in 2017 to downsize and since then has met in rented space at Tree of Life, and now at another synagogue in Squirrel Hill where many of its congregants reside. The cemetery chapel will still be open for funerals and special events, as well as for anyone who wishes to view the memorial and other historical exhibits.
Black stated, “It’s amazing that we have something which’s ours.”
Three victims were buried in the cemetery. In 2020, a memorial plaque honoring them as “holy Martyrs” was dedicated.
Cohen stated at the dedication that “the true, lasting legacy to Rich Dan, Mel, and the eight other members of the two congregations was not just physical memorials like this building but to accept that our obligation to teach future generations the roots of antisemitism within America.” “Only understanding the past will allow us to change the future.”
The April trial date for the suspect in the shootings is set.