New Light Congregation has put its building on Forbes Avenue and Beechwood Boulevard up for sale and will be entering into an agreement to rent space from Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha on Wilkins Avenue.
“Like many congregations throughout Western Pennsylvania, we are faced with a declining and aging membership,” said New Light co-president, Stephen Cohen. “Supporting an aging building has become financially challenging. But instead of closing or merging with another shul, we are seeking to create a new, more robust synagogue model where several congregations share a single building.”
That “metropolitan model” would ideally have three or four congregations under one roof, with each congregation maintaining its own identity, but sharing operating costs, Cohen said.
Congregation Dor Hadash is also housed in the TOL*OLS building, and TOL*OLS president Michael Eisenberg is hopeful that it will opt to continue that relationship.
“Dor Hadash is evaluating things over the summer,” Eisenberg said. “I would like to see them stay. The rental income is nice, but it’s the community that comes first. If there are three synagogues in one building, it creates an energy and a center of vitality. People will want to be there. They’ll feel it’s a happening place.
“When both Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha and Dor Hadash are having events on the same day, the place is bustling,” he continued. “With New Light there, it will be bustling even more.”
TOL*OLS and New Light are both Conservative congregations, while Dor Hadash is Reconstuctionist.
“I see good compatibility here,” Eisenberg said.
New Light will be provided with a dedicated space — the former Sisterhood Room — in which to conduct services. The congregations will employ separate rabbis, with Rabbi Jonathan Perlman coming over with New Light. TOL*OLS is currently in negotiations with a rabbinical candidate to succeed Rabbi Chuck Diamond,
who will be leaving the congregation on June 30. Dor Hadash is a member-led congregation.
New Light is looking forward to the move, which is expected to occur before the end of the year.
“To us, New Light has never been about the building,” said Barbara Caplan, co-president of New Light. “We are family, sharing simchas and sorrows, studying and learning together.”
New Light members hope that the move will ensure the long-term vitality of the Conservative congregation and will use the proceeds from the sale of the building as an endowment.
The asking price for the New Light building is $900,000, according to Cohen. The congregation is already talking to potential buyers.
“We’re looking forward to our new home,” Cohen said. “I think it’s going to grow both congregations, and I think the synergy of having two congregations, and hopefully three congregations, in the same building will do a lot for the community.”
TOL*OLS is also exploring the possibility of leasing space to Chatham University, to be used during weekdays when most of the synagogue building is not in use.
While the Jewish Association on Aging had considered creating senior housing on TOL*OLS property, “that is now off the table,” Eisenberg said, due to “zoning obstacles.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.