Beth Hamedrash final service in old synagogue
Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob Congregation held its final service in the old Colwell Street synagogue on Monday. It was the morning Shacharit service.
Twelve men and two women were on hand in the downstairs chapel of the Orthodox synagogue to daven a final time in the building that had been the congregation’s home since 1964.
It was a straight service, no special speeches or reminiscences.
“After that, we took the Torahs and took them to the new location,” said Ira Frank, the congregation’s president.
Nevertheless, Frank, president of the congregation, said he felt “mixed emotions,” as he davened (prayed) in the synagogue for the last time.
Upstairs, the plaques and stained glass windows were already removed from the main sanctuary. Workers also disassembled the historic hand-carved ark, which goes into storage for about 18 months until the congregation’s new synagogue on Fifth Avenue – the old Central Blood Bank building – is ready.
The Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority voted unanimously on March 20 to approve the purchase of the 43-year-old building for $5.5 million.
The land on which the synagogue sits was the last piece of property the SEA needed to assemble the site for a new arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The synagogue was the last parcel the authority needed for the project.
The total purchase price included $2.8 million for the real estate, and $2.7 million for relocation and related costs.
According to the terms of the agreement, the congregation was expected to vacate the building by this week.
On the same day as Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob held its final service on Colwell Street, it held its first service – Mincha – at its temporary home at 709 Forbes Avenue, the old Musicians Union headquarters.
Frank said the congregation, which is leasing the building until renovations to the blood bank building are done, did extensive “cosmetic work” to it to make it usable for a synagogue. The services are held on the first floor, which is entered from Watson Street.
On Sunday, one of the last visiting worshippers to the synagogue, Rabbi Ken Cohen, director of the American University in Washington, D.C., participated in morning services there with his son, Zach. He also gave a brief d’var Torah.
“When visiting your synagogue this morning, I immediately noticed something very different,” Cohen said in that address. “Your ark is no longer here. There is a recess in the eastern wall where it used to be. You have already removed your ark and have installed it in your congregation’s new home (sic).
Just like the Israelites of old, it precedes you as you are about to break camp and move from your home of 45 years.
“This was your second opportunity to move to the suburbs, but instead you embraced as a mission, the vision of keeping the Torah here in the heart of Downtown. Perhaps others thought that was bucking a trend, but I see this as vision, courage and leadership. And bless you for it.”