Prepare for contraction

Prepare for contraction

Here’s a stark prediction: In 20 years, many of the 26 Jewish congregations in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County — perhaps even half of them — will no longer exist. They will have either merged with other congregations or closed their doors altogether.
Scanning a directory of the area’s congregations, we can identify several that are already in trouble — victims of financial distress brought on by the declining Jewish population in western Pennsylvania, not to mention the recession and other factors.
We considered that future scenario in light of a story this week by our associate editor, Eric Lidji. He reports that Rodef Shalom Congregation and Temple Sinai are planning a joint selichot service for Saturday, Sept 12, at Temple Sinai.
To be sure, Rodef Shalom and Temple Sinai are two of the healthiest congregations in the area. We know that, and we are definitely not implying there are any major changes in their status being planned. So please, no angry letters.
Their joint service, though, is another example of collaboration among the institutions and congregations of Jewish Pittsburgh, many of which are delineated in Lidji’s story.
We hope many more such acts are in the works. They build community unity and understanding. They make full use of existing resources and — let’s face it — they just make sense.
Moves like space sharing and joint services also happen to be within the comfort zone of the community. Talk of closing the doors of one’s beloved synagogue is not.
But it’s going to happen. We don’t know when or how many congregations will be affected, but unless Pittsburgh attracts a sudden rush of new Jewish residents, such a contraction is unavoidable.
The question then becomes, do we deal with it when it happens, or do we prepare for it now?
We say, be prepared.
Congregations of the same movements need to network more, hold more functions in each other’s buildings and forget old quarrels. Some should even make contingency plans for their future demise. They don’t need to be publicized — no need to upset the membership — but it’s no different than people making their own funeral arrangements.
The thing to remember is that contraction is not necessarily a bad thing. Handled correctly, the process can lead to a healthier, more efficient, more cohesive community. That should be everyone’s goal. This is something the community should be thinking about, starting now.