Beth Shalom, Rodef Shalom rabbis call for cooperation in ‘white paper’

Beth Shalom, Rodef Shalom rabbis call for cooperation in ‘white paper’

The religious leaders of Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom have drafted an historic “white paper,” which spells out an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two worship communities.

In the white paper, which was drafted by Rabbis Aaron B. Bisno of Rodef Shalom and Michael Werbow of Beth Shalom, the two clergy resolve to “collaborate in common purpose to respond to the new realities” facing their congregations.

They also pledge to “create meaningful Jewish experiences for those individuals and families who identify with our shared communal mores and values.”

Both rabbis say the white paper is not a blueprint for merger.

“This paper Rabbi Werbow and I drafted together for the purpose of [showing] where our thinking overlaps,” Bisno told the Chronicle. He called the paper “a guide to ourselves with regards to what we might imagine we can achieve working in partnership.”

The white paper cites “recent patterns in Jewish demography and affiliation, to say nothing of prevailing current economic realities” as the impetus for the proposal.

“We live in difficult and challenging times, and where the desire to create pluralistic and intellectually honest Jewish communities of vitality and meaning are concerned, we are all in this together,” the white paper states. “No single congregation is immune from present-day realities, nor can any single congregation solve these challenges alone.

The white paper calls for “collaborative efforts” in the following areas:

• Educational opportunities for both children and adults;

• Cultural, religious and social experiences appropriate for every demographic; and

• “An ongoing exploration and evaluation of what will best serve the interests going forward of the widest cross-section of Pittsburgh’s Reform and Conservative Jewish communities.”

Broadly written, the white paper makes clear that other areas of cooperation could be included going forward.

The two rabbis have been working on this project for some time, according to Werbow. “We sat together in fall,” he said “and it’s gone through a few revisions since then.”

While historic in that it is a written guide for future cooperation, the white paper’s proposals are hardly new to either congregation. Some such efforts are already underway.

For months, Beth Shalom Religious School and the Rodef Shalom Jacob Religious School have held a joint program on Sundays for their seventh- graders. The program covers topics chosen by the students themselves last spring: ethical issues in Judaism, critical issues with the clergy, Jewish cooking and culture, social action and Holocaust education.

Other efforts have been less exciting, but just as necessary.

“We’re looking at areas where we have duplication of resources and services,” Werbow said. “Last winter, we arranged with the same snow plow company to get better deal because they’re doing both sites — those kinds of things where, through economies of scale, we can be stronger.”

Some up coming projects have less to do with sharing expenses then sharing ideas. For instance, both Werbow and Bisno have said they plan to address each other’s congregations in the near future in a “rabbinic exchange.”

“We’re looking towards doing that,” Werbow said, “we just haven’t set the dates.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at