After eight and a half years in the same location, the Agency for Jewish Learning is poised to move to new digs at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
The AJL board of directors voted Feb. 19 to approve a move from its current location on the campus of Community Day School to the Shadyside congregation.
The move is contingent on the agency securing funding to pay the moving expenses, something AJL Executive Director Ed Frim said his staff already is working on.
He expects the communitywide umbrella group for Jewish education to be in its new location by July 1.
AJL will occupy a smaller space at Rodef Shalom — 2,500 square feet of office — but it will have access to classrooms and meeting rooms as needed.
“We’ve been looking around since [last] summer,” Frim said. “We want to reduce our occupancy costs and because we want a location that’s a little more conducive to our work. Right now, because of our usage patterns for our resource center and classes, we really control a lot more space in these classrooms than we need.”
In fact, he said CDS is already using two AJL classrooms the agency no longer needs.
As the AJL model evolves, so has its space needs.
“Since I’ve been here we’re always been reassessing what our needs are,” Frim said. “This time, it (the move) just seems to makes sense.
AJL officials visited a number of locations in Jewish Pittsburgh, preferring to relocate to a Jewish institution for the “symmetry” it could offer, according to Frim.
Seventeen AJL staff members — full- and part-time — are expected to relocate to Rodef Shalom, making this the largest move to date of a Pittsburgh Jewish institution to synagogue space.
Rodef Shalom already houses Jewish Residential Services and the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee. In Squirrel Hill, Congregation Beth Shalom rents space to the Chronicle and the Jewish National Fund.
“This is certainly what Rabbi [Aaron] Bisno has been talking about,” said Rodef Shalom Executive Director Jeffrey Herzog. “Synagogues and community organizations need to work together in the best interests of the community, and this will enable AJL to be in a central location with rabbinic input beyond what is presently provided by Rabbi [Scott] Aaron and classrooms that will meet their needs.”
AJL will continue to conduct programs at Jewish institutions around the county such as the Jewish Community Center, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, Jewish Association on Aging, Temple David in Monroeville and Temple Ohav Shalom in the North Hills. In addition, it will continue to operate its J-SITE supplemental high school on the campus of Chatham University.
Frim cautioned that AJL’s working relationship with other congregations would not change just because it is becoming a Rodef Shalom tenant.
“We’re renting space at Rodef Shalom,” he said. “While there will be some synergy, all we’re doing is renting space there. We’re working with all the synagogues in town and the message we’re sending is we’re going to continue working with everyone the way we have.”
CDS Head of School Avi Baran Munro said the school plans to move its technology management center to the AJL space once the agency leaves. It will also use some of the space for meetings, programming and indoor play activities.
“We will be devoting time and resources to a space utilization study of our entire campus next year,” Munro said.
She said parts of the AJL space will probably need renovation depending on the results of that space study. “That is why we are going to take some time to assess our needs and do it right.”
Before AJL makes the move, it has to decide what it’s taking to its new location at Rodef Shalom and what it will give away.
“There is stuff from the Hebrew Institute that we have here,” he said.
Susan Melnick of the Rauh Jewish Archives recently had discussions with AJL staff about how to decide what to keep and what to part with, but the Rauh has not yet taken possession of any artifacts.
She did say the Rauh is interested in having historical records, not only from AJL, but also from Jewish Education Institute, J-SITE and other related entities past and present.
One of the biggest question marks is what to do with materials at the AJL’s resource center — a library of books, videos and other reference materials available for community use.
“Use has fallen off,” Frim said. “People don’t use a lot of the books, we’re finding, because they can do more stuff online. Demand for much of that [material] isn’t what it used to be.”
The decline of resource centers is a national trend, he noted. “There are far fewer of these research centers than there were 20 years ago. A lot of cities have closed them down or don’t staff them in the same way.”
He said his staff is excited about the move.
“It will be a very collegial space,” Frim said, “and any time you move it’s a good time to take stock, so that’s a good thing for us as well.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)