As go the people, so goes the news. In a year filled with political strife, domestic terror attacks and a renewed reminder that victims continue to experience inequalities and hostilities in professional and personal settings, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle followed the unsettling days of 2017.
In a year marked with tales of sorrow, courage and ultimately hope, this award-winning newspaper brought readers fair and balanced coverage on assorted issues affecting those in Pittsburgh and abroad.
While we join many in wishing that 2018 brings happier spells, before closing the door on 2017, PJC would like to review its top stories from the past year.
January: Jewish women take to the streets after inauguration
The mass gatherings on Jan. 21 were intended to “send a bold message to our new government on its first day in office and to the world that women’s rights are human rights,” said organizers.
“Women’s issues are everyone’s issues, and protecting the rights, freedoms and justice of all communities is important. If we can take this stand by participation in the marches, then that’s what we should do,” added Laurie Gottlieb, president of National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh Section.
February: Yeshiva schools teacher suspected of sexual abuse
After a lengthy investigation, Rabbi Nisson Friedman, a former teacher at Yeshiva Boys School of Pittsburgh, became a suspect in several alleged incidents of child sexual abuse.
The suspected assaults occurred both privately and publicly, including at least once in the Yeshiva building on Wightman Street.
The administration promptly reported the disclosure of the suspected assault to the police and to the state’s mandated ChildLine and Abuse Registry as well as to other authorities, said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, dean of Yeshiva Schools. Friedman was immediately suspended from his teaching duties and has left his position with Yeshiva Schools permanently.
April: AgeWell Pittsburgh receives national recognition
AgeWell Pittsburgh, a 14-year-old merger of three Pittsburgh organizations that serve seniors, received the 2017 Collaboration Prize from the Lodestar Foundation.
The national award came with an award of $150,000.
According to representatives, “the Collaboration Prize helps raise awareness of collaboration as a powerful and strategic way for nonprofits to increase their impact. A selection panel comprising major funders of nonprofit collaboration reviewed more than 350 applications from qualified nonprofits for the Prize.”
May: Magistrates make case for election
Of the four candidates who competed in the Democratic primary in District 05-2-35 (the 7th and 14th wards) for magisterial district judge, three are men and three are lawyers and three are Jewish.
The Chronicle followed Dan Butler, Abbie Campsie, Mark Sindler and Matt Wholey as they campaigned for a seat previously held by Hugh McGough. After McGough’s election to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Butler was appointed to complete the term. Butler ultimately won the May 16 contest.
June: Anti-Semitism across Pittsburgh spurs reaction
An anti-Semitic message reading “Kill the Jews!” was found spelled out in pine cones with a swastika at a residential intersection in Mt. Lebanon on May 30, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“The police do not believe this incident constitutes a hate crime but is rather the work of juveniles who may not fully understand the effect of their actions,” Mt. Lebanon Police Lt. Duane Fisher told the Post-Gazette.
Although the event was planned well in advance of the Charlottesville, Va., riots, said CRC director Josh Sayles, the incident in Charlottesville contributed to the relevance of the program.
“Suffice it to say, Jews know all too well what happens when white supremacists and Nazis congregate, whether it’s Charlottesville or elsewhere,” Sayles said. “We fully support the First Amendment. We don’t counter hate speech by shutting it down. We counter hate speech with more speech.”
Such was the advice of Brad Orsini, Federation’s director of Jewish community security, in a September story in the Chronicle that chronicled the dissemination of white supremacist propaganda in Squirrel Hill. Orsini urged readers to report any sighting of hateful material to both him and the police. “For us, it’s really important that when people see this, they identify it as soon as possible.”
July: The Chronicle relaunch
In response to changes generated by the internet as well as alterations to the American Jewish landscape, the Chronicle underwent a relaunch. Several years in the making, the paper rebranded its name, was redesigned for easier reading, relaunched its website in partnership with The Times of Israel and through the generosity of donors was made free to every member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, explained Jim Busis, the paper’s CEO and publisher.
“We really want to be the central platform for communication in Jewish Pittsburgh, the one place where everybody can go to get reliable news and information, to share opinions, to share joys and sorrows.”
Added Busis: “We know that people won’t necessarily agree with every viewpoint in the Chronicle, but we always hope they learn something, that they will be challenged and that they will be open to being exposed to viewpoints other than their own.”
August: Rabbis and congregations on the move
Both spiritual leaders and sites were on the move in 2017. Temple Ohav Shalom, Congregation Emanu-El Israel and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation welcomed new rabbis this past year. Rabbi Chuck Diamond, formerly of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, joined his supporters in creating Kehilla La La, which he described as a “joyful, spiritual, engaging, inclusive Jewish experience.”
Additionally, while New Light Congregation relocated from its own building on Beechwood Boulevard to rented space at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, Temple Hadar Israel, the last remaining synagogue in New Castle, closed its doors after 70 years.
September: JCC tackles gender inclusion and identity
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh explicated its catchphrase by specifically adding the terms “gender expression” and “gender identity” to its membership policy. Keeping consistent with years-long messaging that “the JCC is for everybody,” the center made clear that all are welcome within its walls and at its programs.
“As an organization, while our mission implied that we are open to all, we felt that it was very important to be more explicit with ‘gender expression’ and ‘gender identity,’” said Marc Brown, immediate past chair of the JCC’s board.
“Now more than ever we felt it was important to let the community know we are open for everybody, and everybody should feel welcome in our agencies and at our programs and in the services we offer,” added Jim Ruttenberg, JCC chair of the board.
October: Rabbis deliver various responses after Las Vegas massacre
Following the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas, local rabbis reflected on the tragedy. Either by addressing their congregants from the pulpit or through written communication, Steel City spiritual leaders responded to the deadly shooting of 58 people, which left another 489 injured.
“Seriously, what is there to say that hasn’t already been said after Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Pulse Nightclub massacre, the Dallas sniper shootings, San Bernardino? On and on! You follow the news: This is almost a daily event. Tragic beyond words,” said Rabbi Mark Mahler of Temple Emanuel of South Hills.
“Jewish tradition implores us to do everything we can to prevent a loss of life in a potentially dangerous situation,” said Rabbi Stacy Petersohn of Congregation Emanu-El Israel in Greensburg. “In Leviticus 19, which we read on Yom Kippur afternoon, we are commanded to not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor.
“This is a call of compassion, to not allow ourselves to be desensitized to the violence that humans are capable of. It is also a call for justice, but what justice can the friends and families of the victims of gun violence have? Nothing will bring their loved ones back. We can learn from it and work toward future preventative measures.”
November: Local stories of #MeToo
Spurred by the #MeToo initiative, launched by actor Alyssa Milano, victims of sexual assault or harassment spoke with the Chronicle. Following the story’s publication, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh hosted a program called “#MeToo, a Jewish Perspective” as part of the Global Day of Jewish Learning.
“Any sexually abusive behavior is patently unacceptable,” said Foundation Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff. “Nevertheless, it has become absolutely clear that abusive behavior toward women is rife in our society.”
November: Centennial celebrations
Two Conservative congregations celebrated centennials in 2017. Beth El Congregation of South Hills and Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill embarked on multiple events in recognizing the history and future of each synagogue. Similarly celebrating in the Steel City was Hadassah, whose 100th anniversary in Pittsburgh was marked by a gala event held at the University Club in September.
December: New Castle congregation closes and sends Torahs worldwide
Over the past year, Temple Hadar Israel sent scrolls to Beit Centrum Ki Tov, a new progressive congregation in Warsaw, Poland, and to a new congregation in South Carolina.
More recently, Temple Hadar Israel sent a Torah to a congregation in Houston that was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey and a Torah to an emerging Jewish population in Jakarta, Indonesia. “Our whole mission is to provide help and support to others as we leave our congregation,” said Sam Bernstine, president of Temple Hadar Israel. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz