With the goal of providing more social opportunities for young Pittsburghers Shalom Pittsburgh is branching out across the city’s tunnels and bridges to reach suburban Jewish populations.
The program, an affiliate of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, is set up for young adults ages 22-45, who are newcomers to the region in general and the Jewish community in particular.
The need for suburban outreach presented itself when the organization realized that the suburbs had unique needs.
“From doing various programming, we realized that there were people out in the suburbs who were sometimes willing to come in to the city but they really wanted to build up the Jewish community where they were, especially in the South and North Hills,” said Julie Rosenbaum, Shalom Pittsburgh coordinator.
Mark and Olga Pizov of McCandless Township, who co-chair the North Hills Outreach, say the project is necessary to keep young suburban Jews connected to Jewish life here.
“There’s no real way to integrate the North Hills Jewish community into the greater Jewish community. That’s where we felt there was a real void,” said Mark. “We mingle among ourselves, but we had no awareness of what was going on in the city; the programming was not reaching the constituents in the North Hills.”
Olga agreed. “Mark and I got involved as a way to widen our horizons and as a way of meeting more Jewish people in the Pittsburgh area,” she said. “We’ve seen fun events in Squirrel Hill, but we wanted to bring those over here.”
The kick-off North Hills-based event will be a family nature hike and snowshoe demonstration at North Park on Sunday, Nov. 7, led by Venture Outdoors.
Additional programming is in the works.
“We’re looking to plan nonreligious social activities with the most important focus on families and couples,” said Mark.
While the goal of the suburban outreach is to strengthen communities, particularly in those areas where there is not a strong Jewish presence, Shalom Pittsburgh invites the community at large to attend all of the events. So a Squirrel Hill resident is welcome at a South or North Hills event, and visa versa.
“As someone who grew up unaffiliated, I know that [living in the suburbs] puts you on the outside of the Jewish community,” said Helena Spatz of Upper St. Clair, co-chair of the South Hills Outreach.
Even though the South Hills is home to four congregations, a Chabad house and a Jewish Community Center, suburban programming is not intended to replace or compete with social events at those institutions, Rosenbaum said. “We have partnered with synagogues in the past for programming. Most of the organizations out here do really work well together.”
The first South Hills Shalom Pittsburgh event last month was a fall festival at Simmons Farm, McMurray. The event consisted of a hayride, bonfire and even a couple of singing rabbis.
“Because of bridges and tunnels, a lot of Pittsburgh is very segmented,” said Spatz. “In the South Hills, we have our own community, but we don’t always think of that as part of a greater Pittsburgh Jewish community. My goal is to bring the Federation out to the South Hills and to bring community together regardless of temple or JCC affiliation.”
And once people are aware of suburban programming, maybe they’ll venture to the city for even more programming and merge with the city’s young adult Jewish population.
Rosenbaum has plans to bring programming to Fox Chapel and the eastern suburbs as well, though she said that Fox Chapel residents are more inclined to come into the city. As for the eastern suburbs, she said they are still trying to find the young Jewish population there, but they recently held a movie event, having partnered with Jfilm, the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum.
“There’s a lot of reception out here to getting together as a community. I look forward to it growing,” said Spatz. “I think the best thing about getting involved in Shalom Pittsburgh is meeting people I would not have met otherwise.”
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)