Their nomadic days will soon come to a close, as the middle school and high school boys of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh are finally settling into a permanent home, the newly renovated Herman Lipsitz Building on Bartlett Street in Squirrel Hill.
After about a year of construction, transforming the former site of Kether Torah Congregation into a state-of-the art educational institution, hundreds of Jewish Pittsburghers withstood the sweltering heat of Aug. 28 to celebrate the grand opening of the new building on the grounds of Hillel’s campus.
“I’m so excited about having a permanent residence,” said Benji Marcus, an 11th-grader at Hillel Academy, taking a break from dancing to the musical stylings of the a cappella group Six13. “We finally have a place for the Boys High School.”
While the building is not yet move-in ready, administrators at the school anticipate the new space will be operational following the High Holidays. In the meantime, the boys’ classes will be held at Shaare Torah Congregation.
For the last several years, the boys of Hillel have been taught in a variety of locations, most recently at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. Prior to that, they were housed at Congregation Beth Shalom, and prior to that, at Congregation Poale Zedeck.
“We are excited for this new building, a fully equipped 21st century space that allows for creativity and collaboration between our faculty and our students,” said Rabbi Sam Weinberg, the school’s principal and education director. “This marks the next step in the evolution at Hillel Academy as the school continues to grow, and it marks the beginning of future expansions we have planned. This is a 70-year-old institution, and this new building shows we are still vibrant and strong, and still growing.”
The celebration was marked with music, dancing, congratulatory speeches, a barbeque and a tour of the new building. The crowd included students, teachers, parents and other community members happy to see the expansion of a Jewish institution in Squirrel Hill.
“This new building, part of a Squirrel Hill institution, is a welcome addition to the neighborhood,” said Erika Strassburger, a member of Pittsburgh’s City Council (District 8). “Anyone, no matter their association with the school, can celebrate this.”
The Herman Lipsitz building “stands as a tribute” to the founders and supporters of Hillel Academy, the school’s CEO, Dan Kraut, told the crowd, and “ensures the vision of Jewish continuity.”
The Herman and Helen Lipsitz Charitable Trust provided much of the funds to undergo the renovation. Herman Lipsitz, who died in 2005 at the age of 96, was an ardent proponent of Jewish education as a means of ensuring Jewish continuity, said his daughter Barbara Nobel Katch, who spoke at the event.
“If we are to claim and maintain our Judaism, we have to have a strong understanding of who we are,” said Katch, quoting her late father. “Jewish education is important to maintain the Jewish people.”
The new building also pays tribute to Chantze and Donald Butler, co-founders of the school, with the Donald and Chantze Butler Beit Medrash, which will provide a place for the boys to learn and pray.
“This is thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s wonderful,” said Judge Dan Butler, who has lived next door to the site of the new building his entire life, and who is the nephew of Donald and Chantze. “We look forward to hearing the sound of Torah coming from next door.”
Although the new building only will house boys in grades five through 12, the rest of Hillel Academy’s students also will be reaping its benefits as its opening signals more space for those students remaining in their building on Beacon Street.
“We’re enjoying the extra space on our floor, so we got something, too,” said Elky Langer, Hillel’s assistant principal of grades K through four. “Now, we have a whole floor for K through four, the whole elementary school is in one place.”
Even the youngest students at the school had something to celebrate.
“All year long, the kindergarteners watched the building, from literally a hole in the ground and scaffolding,” said Hillel’s kindergarten teacher Dori Oshlag. “One day, they will be students in this building. What a great connection to their whole experience at Hillel.” PJC