Last fall, the massacre of Jews by an anti-immigration fanatic at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh brought brief national attention to the city’s Jewish community. Barbara Burstin, a historian of Pittsburgh Jewry, provides an overview of its development, with special attention to the synagogue itself and the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where it is located:
Beginning around 1910, [more recently arrived] East European Jews began to join their more established German Jewish brethren in the [city’s] nicer East End neighborhoods of Oakland, East Liberty, Bloomfield, and even Squirrel Hill, the most prestigious of them all, with its elegant houses and tree-lined streets. . . . Squirrel Hill soon became the center of Pittsburgh Jewish life, though Tree of Life would not move from its building in the more modest Oakland neighborhood to its present location in Squirrel Hill until after World War II. . . .
In 1948, Tree of Life broke ground for its current building in Squirrel Hill, but with the founding of the state of Israel, its rabbi, Herman Hailperin, called for a stop to the fundraising so the congregation could focus on helping Jews in Israel. The cornerstone of the building, which opened four years later, was hewn from Jerusalem limestone. These were boom years for Tree of Life. In 1959, the synagogue broke ground again to build a new, 1,400-seat sanctuary. A local artist, Nicholas Parrendo, was commissioned to create the massive modernist stained-glass windows that flank its bimah and pews, depicting creation, the acceptance of the Torah, and the Jewish ethos. . . .
Unlike Jews of other cities that are, in one way or another, comparable (say, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Cleveland), Pittsburgh’s Jews never moved en masse to the suburbs, and the fact that the community remains centered in Squirrel Hill may have helped with their complete integration into the city’s life.