The mix of emotions generated by moving was demonstrated on Sunday, Nov. 12, as members of New Light Congregation transported six Torah scrolls to their new home at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.
The nearly half-mile public procession through Squirrel Hill drew representatives from both congregations, as the parade represented a new beginning in synagogue life, said Michael Eisenberg, president of TOL*OLS.
“This is emotional for me. It’s been a long road,” said the lay leader.
“It feels like we’ve walked more than a mile from our old house on Beechwood Boulevard,” echoed Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, New Light’s spiritual guide.
Sunday’s march, which welcomed approximately 75 people, “had been a long time coming,” explained Eisenberg.
Years earlier, organizations including the Jewish Association on Aging, the now defunct Agency for Jewish Learning and even the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh had convened conversations among East End congregations regarding possible plans for mergers, shared settings or other ideas for what to do with an overabundance of synagogue spaces.
“These buildings are massive, and there needs to be new efficiency in synagogue real estate,” said Eisenberg.
It was not until representatives of New Light and TOL*OLS assembled on their own, however, that any movement was actually stirred.
Stephen Cohen and Barbara Caplan, co-presidents of New Light, reached out to Eisenberg about meeting at a Squirrel Hill coffee house.
“In synagogue life when they ask you to go to Starbucks, it’s never about coffee,” remarked Eisenberg.
From there a plan developed that included selling New Light’s building (a process that is not yet completed, said Cohen), renting space in TOL*OLS (the three-year lease began on Nov. 1) and creating a new model for synagogue usage.
“Each of our congregations wants to maintain a community,” said Eisenberg. “And we are looking at Dor Hadash to be a partner of this.”
The Reconstructionist synagogue is a current tenant of TOL*OLS.
Over the past seven years, Dor Hadash and its landlord have collaborated on programs and joint Kiddushes, said Rabbi Doris Dyen and Dan Leger, members of the lay-led congregation.
By placing an additional partner beneath the roof, there is increased opportunity for future cooperation, said representatives.
Because of the “critical mass” of people assembled, “the hub of activity will be right here at Shady and Wilkins,” noted Eisenberg.
Observing the youngsters singing beside the adults was “heartwarming,” said Caplan.
It was also an educational moment, said Karen Morris, TLC’s principal. Having the streets closed and people marching with Torahs is something that the students “don’t see every day,” she said.
Upon the multigenerational crowd’s arrival at TOL*OLS, the group proceeded downstairs to the old sisterhood room. Now known as the New Light Chapel, the space featured freshly painted walls, new ceiling tiles and updated lighting.
Portions of the work were completed by New Light members before the ceremony, said Barry Werber of New Light.
After three of the congregation’s six Torahs were placed in the ark, a mezuzah was placed on the doorway to New Light’s new home. Perlman then recited the blessing both for affixing a mezuzah as well as the shehechiyanu.
Afterward, responsive readings, more singing and additional speeches occurred before attendees enjoyed a brunch buffet complete with lox, sable, bagels, kugel, cake and other common dishes.
The emotional nature of the engagement was felt throughout, said Caplan.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Carol Black of Cranberry Township, a New Light member. “You have happy memories from the old house, and you will make new memories at the new house.”
“In a way it’s fantastic, but in a way it’s sad. This is the second synagogue I’ve had to close,” said Werber, a former member of Congregation B’nai Israel in East Liberty.
“This is a rebirth. My family has been involved in this congregation for a long time,” said Ezra Reis of Kennedy Township. Reis’ father, Rabbi Paul Reis, was New Light’s spiritual leader from 1980 until 1983.
“What we have created here is a blank slate. It is something to grow with and something to build with,” said Cohen, before offering praise. “Tree of Life was very gracious to adopt a metropolitan model of multiple congregations in one building.”
This is an example of “how the Jewish community can partner to come up with creative solutions to challenges we face,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, spiritual leader of TOL*OLS.
“Here at Tree of Life, we are housing three different minyans that are existing simultaneously, and I think it’s wonderful that we’re able to do something like that.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz