Agreement Reached on Distribution of Tree of Life 10.27 Contributions

Author: Jon Pushinsky, Congregation Dor Hadash
Updated 2/21/2020 by New Light

Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation have reached an agreement regarding distribution of the money received by Tree of Life in response to the October 27th (2018) assault on the three congregations. This agreement was reached with the invaluable and caring assistance of the Independent Committee that was formed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh in November 2018. The Independent Committee was originally charged with deciding how to distribute the money in Federation’s Victims of Terror Fund. A representative of each of the three congregations served on the Committee. The relationships and trust developed between Independent Committee members during the Committee’s Victims of Terror Fund work, as well as the experience of reaching a consensus on how to distribute that Fund, enabled the Congregations to seek and accept the assistance of the Committee in making recommendations regarding distribution of the funds held by Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha (Tree of Life). One of the principles that guided the Committee’s deliberations relative to the funds held by Tree of Life was “shalom b’bayit” – the need to arrive at recommendations that would foster healing in the congregations and harmony throughout the wider Jewish community.

The world was shocked by the October 27th tragedy. The synagogue attack was branded with the Tree of Life name. Not knowing how else to show their support or otherwise respond to the loss of life and injury to worshipers of the three congregations meeting at the Tree of Life building, thousands of people and organizations made financial contributions. These contributions came from every part of the United States and from countries around the world.

The great bulk of contributions sent to the three congregations was received by Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha (Tree of Life). Tree of Life received a total of $5.45 million through April 30, 2019. At least in part due to the branding, questions arose as to whether donors actually intended the $5.45 million for the exclusive benefit the Tree of Life.

It became clear early on that there were significant differences of opinion between the three congregations on how to distribute the funds held by Tree of Life. The congregations could not arrive at an agreement. One complicating factor was that the Tree of Life building, owned by Tree of Life, was damaged during the attack. Funds received by Tree of Life were intended by some donors to be used for building repair/reconstruction. The cost of repair of/rebuilding the Tree of Life synagogue will be significant. Until repair/rebuilding plans are finalized, the exact amount needed remains undetermined.

Ultimately, Tree of Life contacted David Shapira, Chairperson of the Independent Committee, to request his assistance in resolving the issue of fund distribution. David suggested convening the entire Independent Committee, an idea quickly endorsed by the Boards of all three congregations. The members of the Independent Committee agreed to help. The specific task undertaken by the Committee was to come up with recommendations regarding distribution of funds. These recommendations were not to be binding on the Congregations. Rather, the recommendations would have to be accepted by the boards of Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha in order to be implemented.

The Independent Committee met eight times between September 2019 and the end of January 2020. Differences of opinion were aired and positions were debated. 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. Positions often changed after listening to each other and in striving to maintain peace within the community – shalom b’bayit.

Consensus recommendations on how to distribute the $5.45 million held by Tree of Life were reached. The congregational representatives on the Independent Committee presented these recommendations to their respective boards. All three congregational boards voted to approve the Committee’s recommendations. According to these recommendations, a majority of the money will be distributed to those most affected by the tragedy: the families of those slain, those who were wounded and those in or outside of the Tree of Life building during the shooting. Funds have also been set aside to honor first responders and for memorialization.

The Independent Committee’s final report with respect to its recommendations has been released and can be read here.

The congregations send their heartfelt thanks to all members of the Independent Committee for their time, efforts and devotion to helping the three congregations resolve a very complex issue.