Jewish community plays role in Community House project

Jewish community plays role in Community House project

The East End Cooperative Ministry — which partners with local congregations of diverse faiths, including Beth Shalom, Dor Hadash, Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, Temple Sinai and Rodef Shalom — has begun construction of a new 56,000 square feet facility that will provide a single space for its myriad of services.

The new facility, called Community House, will be located at the edge of the East Liberty business district at the corner of Penn Circle North and Penn Circle East. It will house a homeless shelter, respite care center, commercial kitchen, dining room, food pantry, a nondenominational chapel, classrooms, computer rooms, counseling space, and various meeting and administrative rooms. Currently, these services are housed in several different locations.

The EECM was founded in 1970, when an acute need for support services began to arise for residents of East Liberty, according to Myrna Zelenitz, executive director of EECM. Area congregations formed a cooperative to provide aid because “they could not do it alone,” she said.

“It began with a breakfast feeding program at Peabody High School, and it added programs as the needs existed,” Zelenitz said.

With the establishment of Community House, EECM will have space to develop additional programming to further meet the growing needs of the community, according to Zelenitz. The larger space will offer a venue for community events, serve 15 percent more children and provide double the current tutoring classes, and be equipped to serve 25,000 more meals each year through programs such as Meals on Wheels and Soup Kitchen.

“A significant number of volunteers come from the Jewish community,”

Zelenitz noted, adding that area Jewish congregations also provide monetary donations, as well as donations of needed goods.

“Rodef Shalom has been very supportive of EECM in quiet ways for many years,” said David Kaplan, a Rodef Shalom member who also serves on the Council of Congregations, an advisory board to the EECM. “Our brotherhood, once a week, picks up just out of date bread from the Giant Eagle, and delivers it to EECM’s soup kitchen. It’s a very small thing, but we do it consistently. Also, Rodef Shalom provides 100 pounds of ground meat to EECM on a weekly basis. There has been a very supportive relationship between our congregation and EECM for many years.

“EECM seems to be a very quiet organization that’s providing immediate care for people that desperately need it in the East End,” he added.

Likewise, members of Temple Sinai have been working with EECM for years in providing aid to the underserved.

According to Rabbi Ronald B.B. Symons, director of the Tikkun Olam Center for Jewish Social Justice at Temple Sinai, the congregation supports EECM with annual financial appeals, coat drives, and baby showers to collect items for children and infants in need.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Symons said of the Community House project. “They do God’s work, and we know God’s work is done across the religious spectrum.”

The opening of Community House is scheduled for the fall of 2013. EECM will pursue a LEED Platinum certification for the facility, making a commitment to green technology.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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