Jewish Pittsburgh must look ahead to save the Covenant
I will try to articulate the importance and urgency of the matter of The Covenant one final time. This is, in my mind, a moral imperative.
There is a real opportunity to bring the secured creditors and the adversarial claimants together in support, for their own benefit, of the interests of the benighted residents of The Covenant. It is no longer important that B’nai B’rith offended local leadership, behaved badly, and worst of all, set in motion forces that have destroyed a much needed Jewish elder care resource in the South Hills, while simultaneously ruining the accumulated life savings of many Jewish (and other) seniors. Now, we have to face the truth that we in the Jewish community, from the rabbinate down to the most casual cultural Jew, have failed to do our duty.
The commandment that we honor our mothers and our fathers is no simple admonition to adolescents to watch their mouths; it is not a simple reference even to the physical parents of our bodies. The commandment to honor our mothers and our fathers is a moral obligation to care for and watch over the senior generation as a whole, the parents of the whole community. The commandment to “honor” is much deeper than a nod to show mannerly respect, it is an admonition to the entire people, in the words of our own generation, to “be there” for the needs and the vulnerabilities of those who have come before us and helped us make our way. Without them, who would we be? Would we be?
It should not matter who is to blame for the failure of The Covenant, or who was right years ago when B’nai B’rith burst onto the scene like a self-proclaimed super-hero with a flawed plan and an outsized sense of importance and ability. It should not matter that Pittsburgh’s Jewish elite were pushed aside, embarrassed, bullied or excluded. This is not about B’nai B’rith or the elite. The Pittsburgh Jewish leadership has been proven right by history and events, this should be enough to satisfy and salve old wounds. B’nai B’rith and its leaders are being sued and will be pursued for justice for years to come. This is not about bruised egos or bad behavior by outsiders.
The current situation is about our Pittsburgh mothers and fathers. It is also about how we observe our moral obligations and show our own humility in the service of community and tradition. In fact, it is not ultimately about money. It is about a small group of vulnerable people who are not asking for money from the Jewish community or any individual.
There has been a proposed plan for sharing the deposit refunds, to which residents and their heirs are entitled, and there would be funds available to provide a better than 20 cents on the dollar recovery for the secured creditors. Such a plan would prevent the residents from losing their savings. It would also provide some future money to support Concordia’s work.
What is needed now is an interfaith outreach to bring the Lutheran sponsors of Concordia Lutheran Ministries, the likely new owner of The Covenant, to a common understanding with other parties to the bankruptcy proceedings that will do as little harm as possible to our mothers and fathers. We have a burgeoning consensus of interests, but one that cannot come together and be implemented without the cooperation and the participation of Concordia. We need to be heard by them, to try to persuade them that what will benefit our mothers and fathers will also benefit Concordia and its mission as well as the secured creditors and other parties. Without such an interfaith intercession, there is no hope of concluding a resolution to avoid the total devastation of the life savings of those who sought refuge in the reputation and the protection of the Jewish community.
We have actual and serious indications of interest and support for the outlined solution from secured creditors and adversarial parties. We have not only a plan, but we have the necessary parties to make something good happen, if we can persuade Concordia that it, too, will benefit from working with us. There is every reason to try.
If the Covenant passes from the control of the Jewish community, another similar facility will be required in the foreseeable future. What will it cost to buy the land, to build the buildings, just to make it happen? Whatever the answers to such questions, there can be no practical doubt that it will exceed the sum at which The Covenant may shortly pass from the control of our community. This is a practical concern, which ought not to be lost in the legalities and the hurt feelings of leaders.
(Steven A. Diaz, a Mt. Lebanon resident, is a Washington attorney whose mother is a former resident of the Covenant.)