Heavy snowfall creates chaotic week for area Jews
While the relentless snow blanketed Pittsburgh and its suburbs this past weekend, many synagogues in the area shut down programming and classes, and, in some cases, even canceled services.
At least one synagogue lost power during the storm.
Turnout was light at some services, but at least one congregation made use of technology to keep a regularly scheduled class going.
At Temple Sinai, the planned farewell ceremony for its outgoing executive director, Phyllis Weinkle, was postponed because of the weather.
And at supermarkets across the area, Jews, like their neighbors, dealt with long checkout lines, bare shelves and snow-filled parking lots, frustrating already stressed shoppers.
“You can see people’s patience is exhausted,” said Joel Don Goldstein, executive director of Tree of Life Congregation, who was one of many grocery shoppers this past weekend. “They’re at their wits end.”
Rodef Shalom canceled a weekend lecture by Rabbi Howard Berman, this year’s scholar in residence for the Harris Interfaith Lecture series.
Still, Executive Director Jeffrey Herzog said the congregation returned to its regular schedule Monday and planned to stage a concert previously planned for that evening.
At Tree of Life, Goldstein said turnout was light for services, but they went on. Rabbi Chuck Diamond’s classes, however, were canceled.
On Tuesday, he added, staff concentrated on keeping walkways in front of the synagogue clear.
“We’re just trying to create a safe environment as best we can,” he said. “It’s been pretty quiet though.”
Snow didn’t stop Temple Sinai Friday. Its Mostly Musical Shabbat program drew more than 100 people, said the new executive director, William Padnos.
“People came through the snow,” Padnos said. “They were careful, and they made it. We were happy about it.”
At Shaare Torah Congregation, Rabbi Daniel Wasserman said services were held as scheduled.
“Everything’s been regular,” he said. “The only difficulty is there’s no parking. My classes tonight (Monday) will be through conference call. Davening and learning doesn’t take a break even in the beauty of this snow,” he added. “I suspect that most will not try to make it out because of parking. We’ve done conference calls before when I go away. There have been times I’ve called from Israel.”
At Poale Zedeck Congregation, Rabbi Ari Goldberg said regular services were held — and more.
“We just had an interview weekend for a new rabbi,” Goldberg added. “Thank God, there was no interruption to that either. Other than limited parking, programs are continuing as regular.”
Both Wasserman and Goldberg said their members were checking in on elderly congregants to make sure they’re fine.
In the South Hills, Hebrew school, nursery school, lectures and other classes were canceled at both Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Beth El Congregation of the South Hills.
Although both synagogues held services on Friday night, attendance was sparse.
“We had about half the number we expected,” said Linda Frankel, office manager of Temple Emanuel. “We were having a special dinner, and about 35 of the 70 we expected came, plus a few others.”
On Saturday morning, Temple Emanuel had only a few people show up for services, Frankel said.
At Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, Rabbi Alex Greenbaum did something never before done in his eight years as the congregation’s spiritual leader — and in his 20 years in the rabbinate: He canceled services.
Greenbaum said he ventured out of his driveway Saturday morning, only to turn around and go home.
“For pikuach nefesh (saving a life), we canceled services,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to take a chance coming to shul. It was too dangerous.”
Beth El also canceled Hebrew School on Sunday and Tuesday, as well as nursery school.
“It’s just a nightmare,” said Greenbaum, whose own family lost power for several days. “It was very hard that the storm was on Shabbat. But we didn’t have much of a choice [in canceling services]. It really was the right decision.”
Not only were synagogues struggling, but so were the bounds of an entire neighborhood. The Kollel Jewish Learning Center reported that sections of the eruv surrounding Squirrel Hill had gone down due to fallen tree limbs.
Rick D’Loss, president of Congregation Ahavath Achim in Carnegie, lives just a couple blocks from the synagogue, yet even he had trouble reaching the building Saturday morning.
He said the alleys approaching the building were snow covered; a tree from his own backyard fell and blocked the way, and he ultimately took a round about way up a deserted main street to get there.
Power was out at the synagogue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., he said, and services were canceled.
“No one could have gotten here,” D’Loss said.
While some congregations struggled in the dark, Beth Shalom found a light: a bar mitzva.
“The parking lot wasn’t clear, so congregants pitched in to help the catering people get in. It was really grassroots,” said Rabbi Michael Werbow. “One person even walked from Point Breeze. There was an air of inspiration — people that were there felt like they were part of something special.”
While Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum of Chabad of the South Hills walked to his shul on Banksville Road on Saturday morning, once there, he found himself without a congregation.
“There were zero people in shul,” Rosenblum said. “It was just my brother, my son and me.”
“We never cancel services,” he continued. “We knew no one could get there by car, but thought some people might walk.”
“It was actually a beautiful walk,” he added. “The fresh snow on the trees really looked beautiful.”
(Justin Jacobs, Toby Tabachnick and Lee Chottiner contributed to this story.)