As we look back on 2015, the staff of The Jewish Chronicle has picked its Top 10 stories of the past year. Appearing in chronological order, the choices offer a snapshot of the award-winning journalism the paper produced for the greater Pittsburgh community:
April: AJL announces its dissolution
The Agency for Jewish Learning, a longtime cornerstone for Jewish education in Pittsburgh, announced it would dissolve as an independent organization, merging its functions with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
The decision to dissolve the AJL came after a yearlong process of evaluating community needs. The organization’s board ultimately came to the decision, with input from other stakeholders, that the AJL could better capitalize on its achievements of the last 11 years by merging its programming with other community agencies.
Teen programming was transferred to the JCC, and the Federation ultimately assumed responsibility for capacity building for Jewish learning and for the programs that help other agencies, schools and organizations build their own Jewish learning services.
April: Jewish groups target Post-Gazette for anti-Israel bias
In a letter addressed to Post-Gazette publisher and editor-in-chief John R. Block, executive editor David Shribman and Allan J. Block, chairman of Block Communications, which owns the paper, the Zionist Organization of America-Pittsburgh District and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) — a media watchdog group headquartered in Boston — expressed “concern with a recurring pattern of factual errors and bias” in editorials addressing the Middle East conflict and the State of Israel.
The letter pointed to eight specific examples of editorials, a political cartoon and two articles published between June 2014 and March 2015, mostly authored by the paper’s editorial board and associate editor Dan Simpson, as consistently portraying “Israel as the cause of Middle East problems” and failing to meet “standards of fair and accurate reporting.”
May: Clergy’s trip to Israel brings renewed focus on hope
The Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, traveled to Israel with Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai and a cohort of 13 other interfaith pairs from across the country.
Barlow and Gibson were participants on the inaugural trip sponsored by Interfaith Partners for Peace, a community of Jewish and non-Jewish faith leaders committed to a two-state solution and to helping their respective congregations learn about Israel, its history and its people. Organizers of IPFP, which aims to create teams of rabbis and Christian clergy throughout the country committed to study together and to travel together, hope the program will expand to include additional partner pairs and convene four interfaith trips to Israel a year.
July: Federation hires community scholar
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh hired Rabbi Danny Schiff, former community scholar at the now-defunct Agency for Jewish Learning and former spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Israel in White Oak, to assume the newly created position of Federation scholar.
It was announced that Schiff, who made aliyah in 2009 after serving the Pittsburgh community for 17 years, would return to Pittsburgh for six months of the year to help imbue with Jewish content the way in which the Federation functions as an organization. The position of Federation scholar is funded by a grant from the Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation, the Federation’s planned-giving arm that enables donors to create permanent endowment funds.
September: Israel Ambassadors Program takes college students to Israel to help with advocacy in Pittsburgh
Ten students active in the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh traveled to Israel, where they developed strategies for combating anti-Israel sentiments on campus. Among the travelers were eight students from the University of Pittsburgh and two from Carnegie Mellon University. Each participant was selected by leadership from Hillel JUC.
Through the Israel Ambassadors Program, the Hillel Jewish University Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh helped enable participating students to become more comfortable advocating for Israel and the Jewish community back on campus.
September: Jewish Healthcare Foundation celebrates 25 years
After 25 years of working to improve the trajectory of health care in Pittsburgh and beyond, supporters of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation gathered to celebrate at JHF headquarters in Centre City Tower downtown, honoring the Foundation and its staff, which has been under the direction of President and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein since its launch in 1990.
Beginning with $75 million in proceeds from the sale of Montefiore Hospital, the JHF has distributed $101 million in grants over its 25 years and has garnered $101 million in funds to put back into the community.
October: Pittsburgh Holocaust Center gets new home
The Holocaust Center moved into its new home in the Squirrel Hill Plaza, which features 2,300 square feet of single-floor space for exhibits, tours, education, research and reflecting. The opening of the new Center marked the first time in the institution’s history that it has its own dedicated space, independent of another institution. From 2011 until this year, the Center was housed in office space provided by the Federation on McKee Place in Oakland. Prior to that, the Center was located within the Jewish Community Center offices in Squirrel Hill.
October: Conservative congregations scramble to find ways to attract and keep members
In light of the reality that the number of those affiliating with the Conservative movement is shrinking, local congregations are doing their best to reverse the trend. While some are at a loss to come up with effective strategies, others are trying to adjust programming to appeal to the needs of the 21st-century Jewish family. Traditional Conservative Judaism may be the way to go, according to others.
December: Rabbi Jacob travels to Berlin to present award to chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Rabbi Dr. Walter Jacob, rabbi emeritus and senior scholar of Rodef Shalom Congregation, traveled to Berlin to present Dr. Angela Merkel, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, with the 2015 Abraham Geiger Award. The biannual prize, which honors meritorious service that benefits Jewish life in all its diversity, has been presented since 2000 and is bestowed by Abraham Geiger College, a rabbinic seminary in Potsdam, Germany, co-founded by Jacob.
Joining Jacob in Berlin were fellow Pittsburghers Eric Schaffer, president of Rodef Shalom; Anne Molloy; Henry Posner III; and Eric Lidji.
December: After almost 40 years, family of Zeke Goldblum continues efforts for his release from prison
Goldblum, the son of a former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, was incarcerated for life in 1977 for a murder that many say he did not commit.
His family, which has been seeking his release for decades, currently is focusing on a letter-writing campaign to Gov. Tom Wolf, imploring him to allow the transfer of Goldblum to a prison in Israel, so that at the very least, he can be visited by his sister and his 92-year-old mother, who both reside there. The family is seeking 1,000 letters from the community to petition Wolf.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.