Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks became a symbolic Pittsburgher when he portrayed Fred Rogers in the biopic, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Now, the screen legend joins Mister Rogers’ widow, Joanne Rogers, actor, singer and Pittsburgh native Billy Porter and Gov. Tom Wolf to become an honorary cabinet member for the Tree of Life’s upcoming campaign, REMEMBER. REBUILD. RENEW.

The project marks a new beginning for the congregation, which two years ago experienced the worst anti-Semitic attack in United States history.

In addition to a building renovation, the campaign will provide joint educational programs and national outreach and engagement and will forge partnerships with community organizations such as the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh to promote peace.

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks with Joanne Rogers at the peace and unity gathering at Point State Park on Nov. 9, 2018. Photo by Tracy Certo.

“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,” says Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, who will lead the campaign. “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 October 27, and create something beautiful that changes our country and our world.”

Drs. Ellen Stewart and Jeffrey Cohen and Linda and Jeffrey Solomon will chair the campaign.

Drs. Stewart and Cohen live across the street from the congregation and their four children became b’nai mitzvah at Tree of Life. Dr. Cohen, who was head of Allegheny General Hospital at the time of the attack, treated the shooter and led the hospital staff through caring for the victims and survivors.

The Solomons, who serve on the boards of multiple national Jewish nonprofits, grew up in Squirrel Hill and were married by Rabbi Alvin Berkun, who will also serve on the honorary cabinet alongside the additional members:

• Ambassador Dani Dayan, former consul general of Israel in New York
• Pennsylvania State Rep. Dan Frankel
• Pennsylvania State Sen. Jay Costa
• Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto
• Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
• Jared Cohon, president emeritus of Carnegie Mellon University
• Community leaders Meryl and David Ainsman
• Community and business leaders Debra and William Demchak
• Bill Strickland, founder and executive chairman of Manchester Bidwell Corporation

Those interested in leadership opportunities or making a pledge can send an email to campaign officials.

“We’re still in the planning stages of the campaign and will have more about the details to share in the future,” Dr. Stewart says. “Right now, we’re excited to have assembled such a wonderful and supportive honorary cabinet to help us mark the start of a chapter of renewal in our history. We are honored to participate in the transformation of a site of hate and tragedy into a site of hope, remembrance and education.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.