Change isn’t easy, but it’s necessary
Only time will tell if Congregation Beth Shalom’s plan to offer tuition-free religious education is a good idea or not, but it’s nice to see yet another area congregation thinking outside the box.
As our associate editor, Eric Lidji, reports in this week’s edition, Beth Shalom is offering one year of free religious school to all new students enrolling this coming year. And if the family is new to Beth Shalom, the Conservative congregation will offer one year of free membership as well.
We like that the offer is being made to all new enrollees and not asking families to demonstrate need. That affords a measure of privacy for families that are struggling in the current recession.
Which, after all, is the reason why Beth Shalom is making this offer in the first place. As Executive Director Lee Levitt told Lidji, the intent here is to keep Jewish education available for families in tough financial times.
It shouldn’t be acceptable to any of us that even one Jewish family must choose between paying for religious school or some other necessary service.
What Levitt didn’t say, but probably knows, is that congregations from all streams of Judaism need to whip up even more creative ways to offer their services to the Jewish community while keeping their financial heads above water.
Even after the recovery is underway — and maybe it already is, according to the leading economic indicators over the past three months — congregational life in Pittsburgh and across the country is under fire. Even before the recession began, synagogue membership was down, revenues were off and congregations were looking for ways to streamline their operations while staying independent.
And they found some ways, too.
Temple David (Reform) and Parkway Jewish Center (Conservative), both in the eastern suburbs, came up with one of most interesting ideas to date, deciding to merge their religious schools. Since then, Tree of Life and Or L’Simcha went a step further, deciding to not only consolidate their schools, but to share the synagogue space at the corner of Wilkins and Shady avenues.
We can envision even bolder decisions in the future — congregations sharing rabbis and collapsing all area religious schools into three large ones — one for Reform children, one for Conservative, and one for Orthodox.
We don’t mean to suggest that any of these decisions — past, present and future — are easy or painless. They’re not. Change comes slow in Pittsburgh for a reason.
But as the changes already made reflect, there’s a new reality at work in American Jewish life — one that demands we make do with less and continue to provide quality services to our people.
Many congregations are already seeking ways to do just that. We commend them. We also warn them: They will need to do more — much more.