A recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review shared an interesting perspective in the changing demographics of Squirrel Hill and the local Jewish community. Rabbi Aaron Bisno's response was no less provocative and highlighted our congregation's movement into "Courageous Conversations" Get involved in the conversation by reading on.
Rodef Shalom Congregation once leased the entire Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland to celebrate high holidays, squeezed out of its Fifth Avenue address by ballooning membership.
The Jewish population in Squirrel Hill boomed so quickly in those early days, more than a half-century ago, that the community formed a second Reform congregation, Temple Sinai, in 1946. The synagogues "used to be just packed to the rafters," said Raymond Baum, 68, a lifelong neighborhood resident.
But Squirrel Hill, still a hub for Judaism in Pittsburgh, has lost ground with Jews and gained Asians and Hispanics, population studies and census data show.
Blue Slide Park, a gateway to Frick Park on Beechwood Boulevard, has become "a total rainbow, melting-pot-type place," Baum said.
"It's very interesting — and it works," said Baum, president of Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. "I think Squirrel Hill is one of the places that has some diversity, and it only makes us stronger." (read more)
I read with rapt interest Adam Smeltz's news story "Asian, Hispanic influx brings diversity to Squirrel Hill" (June 4) about the changing demographics of Squirrel Hill.
He makes the point with data that those of us on the ground are experiencing every day. The face of our city's Jewish community has changed in the last 50 years, and today the institutional footprint of our community is too large for us to support long-term. Where it was once appropriate for Rodef Shalom, then bursting at the seams, to encourage the creation of new congregations such as Temple Sinai, current reality demands that we all work together.
The duplication of services and rising costs of maintaining basic levels of staffing and programming necessitates that we all look beyond our own narrow self-interests for areas of mutual concern ripe for collaboration. Today, every congregation has its own stand-alone religious school; in the coming year, Rodef Shalom and Beth Shalom will merge religious education programs, with other congregations surely apt to follow. Can youth groups, adult education, pastoral care and other essential congregational offerings be far behind?
The most forward-thinking among our communal leaders recognize the trends that the story cites. The question is whether the rest of our community will be willing to address the real and pressing challenges Pittsburgh's Jewish community faces in these first years of the 21st century.