Award-winning actors Tom Hanks and Billy Porter, along with Joanne Rogers, the wife of legendary children’s TV host Fred Rogers, will serve as honorary cabinet members for the Tree of Life Congregation in its efforts to establish a new home.
Hanks, Porter and Rogers are joining elected officials and business and community leaders to support the forthcoming “Remember, Rebuild, Renew” campaign to create a new space for worship at the Tree of Life location in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
It was just over two years ago that the Tree of Life synagogue experienced the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. A gunman killed 11 people from the three congregations that used the synagogue: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light.
The 11 people who died in the attack were Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger.
In addition to supporting a renovation of the building, itself, the campaign will provide for partnerships with community organizations such as the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, joint education programs, national outreach and engagement, and the creation of a new programmatic center dedicated to eliminating hate.
Led by Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life congregation, the “Remember, Rebuild, Renew” honorary cabinet also include Ambassador Dani Dayan, former consul general of Israel in New York; Jared Cohon, president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University; Gov. Tom Wolf; state Rep. Dan Frankel and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
“Through this effort and with the support of people of all backgrounds, we will transform a site of hate and tragedy into a site of hope, remembrance and education,” Myers said. “I will forever be grateful for the wellspring of love that continues to flow over and through our synagogue from all parts of the world — including the support of the individuals who have agreed to join the honorary cabinet to take the horror of Oct. 27 and create something beautiful that changes our country and our world.”
The campaign will be chaired by Drs. Ellen Stewart and Jeffrey Cohen, and Linda and Jeffrey Solomon. Stewart and Cohen live across the street from the congregation. Cohen, president of Allegheny General Hospital at the time of the attack, led the hospital staff through caring for victims and survivors.
“The Jewish community of Pittsburgh has been present for me and my family for decades,” said Porter, the actor and singer who graduated from Pittsburgh CAPA and Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama. “They took care of me in my early years. They took care of my mom in my absence, as I pursued my career. My love for this community is unwavering.
”I look forward to showing the world what real love looks like.”
Hanks became involved because he was in Pittsburgh around the time of the attack, for the filming of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in which he played Fred Rogers. He participated in public commemorations at the time.
Fred and Joanne Rogers lived for many years near the Tree of Life building in Squirrel Hill.
“I’m doing this in remembrance of Fred,” she told the Trib on Wednesday. “I felt close to many in the congregation, as I was a neighbor. And I’m honored to be a neighbor of the Tree of Life knowing what it’s meant to the community. And I’m just delighted to be asked to be a part of this.”
Wolf said the attack at Tree of Life had a profound impact on the commonwealth and the nation.
“This campaign is an important opportunity to collectively resolve to fight hatred and anti-Semitism by supporting Tree of Life and connecting and engaging with the community,” Wolf said. “I’m honored to be named to this cabinet and to be a part of a campaign that seeks to overpower hate with education, support and most importantly, love.”
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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