Chronicle’s top stories of 2014 reflect area’s engaged Jewish community

Chronicle’s top stories of 2014 reflect area’s engaged Jewish community

Mayor Sophie Masloff (REUTERS/David DeNoma)
Mayor Sophie Masloff (REUTERS/David DeNoma)

February: Community Scorecard rollout

Jewish Pittsburgh’s agencies and institutions began some serious self-reflection in 2014, deciding to take a hard and fast look at how well they are meeting the needs of their constituents.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh facilitated that process with the launch of its Jewish Community Scorecard, an online tool that allows users to review data showing the community’s successes and challenges. The Scorecard has garnered national attention for its innovative attempt to measure performance and ensure accountability, with the aim of growing an even more vibrant, thriving and engaged Jewish community.

It is too soon to predict exactly where the Scorecard’s facts and figures will take us in 2015 — and beyond — but its promise of possibilities makes it one of our top local stories of this year.

February: Schechter Day School Network goes independent

The Schechter Day School Network, the voluntary association of day schools in North America that had been long identified with the Conservative movement, became independent of its umbrella organization, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Avi Baran Munro, head of school at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill, said she favored the network disaffiliating from the USCJ because her experience with the Schechter schools confirmed they “were less about perpetuating the Conservative movement or particular ideologies and more about inviting all kinds of Jewish students from all kinds of backgrounds to engage seriously with Jewish experiences and Jewish study, while at the same time experiencing a competitive and rigorous private school education.”

April: Jewish Chronicle transforms its operations

Jewish Pittsburgh’s newspaper entered into a strategic partnership with the Maryland-based WJW Media Group, remaining an independent paper but out-sourcing back-office operations and sharing editorial resources. With the change came the departure of longtime Chronicle editor-in-chief Lee Chottiner, with editorial oversight handed over to Joshua Runyan, who continues to serve as editor-in-chief of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

The new partnership was formed in part in an effort to address a decrease in subscription and ad revenue, issues likewise faced by newspapers across the country.

“One of the priorities was to position The Chronicle for the long term so that it could continue to focus on the local community,” said Chronicle board president Rich Kitay, “letting The Chronicle be a voice for the community and letting people know what’s happening and why.”

May: BDS supporters cause Israeli/Palestinian art show at Mattress Factory to be canceled

A joint exhibition of Israeli, Palestinian and American artists at the Mattress Factory museum was canceled last May before it even opened amid accusations that the Palestinian artists were “normalizing” relations with Israel.

After a Palestinian artist was accused on an Arabic-language Facebook page of violating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — and was threatened for that alleged violation — the Israeli artists withdrew from the show, called “Sites of Passage: Borders, Walls & Citizenship.” The shows’ organizers hoped that the show could continue without the Israelis, but one day later, the Palestinians withdrew as well, causing it to be canceled in its entirety.

Following the show’s cancellation, its organizers issued “a public apology to all Palestinians everywhere for the misunderstanding of this exhibition.”

June: Holocaust and genocide education law enacted in Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Corbett signed a Holocaust and genocide education bill into Pennsylvania state law that “strongly encourages” schools to teach a Holocaust curriculum. The bill had unanimously passed both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

The new law mandates that the State Department of Education create Holocaust and genocide curriculum options and calls for providing teachers with Holocaust education and training. While the law does not require Holocaust instruction, it was hailed by local leaders as an important piece of legislation.

“Surveys show younger people don’t really know what the Holocaust is,” said Skip Grinberg, chair of the Federation’s Community Relations Council, “and it’s important they understand what happened to Jews and others.”

June: Presbyterians vote to divest from Israel

The vote by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three American companies doing business in Israel was met by condemnation from Jewish groups nationwide — including leaders in Jewish Pittsburgh — who predicted a rupture in the relationship between Jews and the national governing body of the church.

The PCUSA’s biennial General Assembly approved the divestment measure 310-303 in Detroit last June. The resolution divests from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard. A similar resolution was narrowly defeated by a margin of two votes at the last biennial held in Pittsburgh in 2012.

Our local CRC emphasized the distinction between the national Presbyterian organization and its local presbyteries, and reiterated Jewish Pittsburgh’s positive relationship with the local presbytery. On the other hand, local leaders minced no words in addressing the disingenuousness of PCUSA moderator Heath Rada’s comments that the divestment resolution “shouldn’t be considered an affront” to Jews, and “in no way is a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.” Local Jewish leaders met with leaders of the local presbytery twice in May and June in anticipation of the divestment vote in Detroit. Nonetheless, the national vote passed by a narrow margin.

Local Jewish leaders met with leaders of the local presbytery twice in May and June in anticipation of the divestment vote in Detroit. Nonetheless, the national vote passed by a narrow margin.

July: Thousands of Pittsburghers rally in support of Israel during Gaza operation

Over 2,500 community members rallied at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in support of Israel following its response to a spate of terrorism by Hamas — including the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens.

As Operation Protective Edge waged on, pro-Israel Pittsburghers packed the Squirrel Hill gymnasium and spilled out into a neighboring auditorium on July 27.  Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, along with more than 70 other organizations, the event was opened by Federation chair Woody Ostrow reciting the afternoon’s mantra: “We stand with Israel.”

August: Mayor Sophie Masloff dies

Pittsburgh lost one of its most treasured citizens this year when Masloff died on Aug. 17 at the age of 96. The self-deprecating Jewish grandmother, who knew how to turn a phrase to connect with the people of Pittsburgh while making it her life’s mission to serve them, was the first Jew, and the first woman, to serve as Pittsburgh’s chief executive.

“She had a remarkable gift for understanding how people think and what they were up against,” said Sen. Bob Casey [D-Pa.], just one of many politicians who came to the memorial service at Temple Sinai to pay their final respect to a true Pittsburgh pioneer.

October: Pennsylvania curbs investment in Iran

The government of Pennsylvania sent a message to businesses operating in the Keystone State with the enactment of Iran-Free Procurement law: If a company wants to do business with Iran, business with the commonwealth will not be so easy.

The new law bars any company that invests more than $20 million in any Iranian energy-related activities from entering into a state procurement contract worth more than $1 million through the Pennsylvania Department of General Services.

The law is the next step in Pennsylvania’s move to promote terror-free investing and follows the 2010 passage of a law prohibiting the commonwealth from investing in companies doing business with Iran and Sudan.

October: Palestinian iteration of Conflict Kitchen draws community criticism

The Conflict Kitchen, a restaurant in Schenley Plaza “that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict,” began its Palestinian iteration in September with a discussion billed as focusing on “current events in Palestine” but criticized by local Jewish leaders as being a one-sided attack on Israel.

Since then, Conflict Kitchen — a project of Carnegie Mellon University art professor Jon Rubin and one of his former students, Dawn Weleski, and initially co-sponsored by the University Honors College at Pitt — has continued to make headlines not only in The Chronicle, but also in papers around the world.

One of its funders, the Heinz Endowments, publicly disavowed its support for the Palestinian iteration; the restaurant reportedly received a death threat that caused it to close for a few days while the police conducted an investigation; and the Zionist Organization of America got involved by sending letters to officials at Pitt and CMU urging them to condemn the anti-Israel messages on pamphlets the restaurant distributes with its food and at its events as well as its “one-sided” programming.

In the meantime, Rubin was the recipient of a $15,000 award from The Pittsburgh Foundation and Heinz Endowments in December, which he vowed to use to expand his restaurant’s presentation of Palestinian foods, culture and perspective.

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