Temple David celebrates 60 years of Jewish life in the eastern suburbs
The congregation began in 1958 and had 125 members within two years. They moved to their current home on Northern Pike in 1960.
Roz Schwartz remembers the year 1958 as one filled with “optimism.”
And why not? The cohort of Jewish families living in Monroeville, which she and her husband — along with five other couples — had organized, received its charter to establish Temple David that year and finally began the process of building a synagogue as a permanent home.
Now, 60 years later, Temple David continues to be a hub of Jewish learning and spirituality in the eastern suburbs and will be marking its milestone anniversary with a series of celebratory events throughout the year.
“We all had young children, and my husband and I were going out to Beth Shalom [in Squirrel Hill] for services,” Schwartz recalled. “We wanted a place to raise our children with a Jewish education out here in Monroeville. So, we started out by renting an old, creaky, empty house. Then we met in churches and a local movie theater.”
By 1960, the congregation, which had grown to about 125 people, had raised enough funds to begin construction of the temple located on Northern Pike, where the Reform community of Monroeville continues to congregate.
“After several years of a nomadic existence, we were able to realize our Temple David building,” Schwartz said.
What are now called the “eastern suburbs” of Pittsburgh was rural countryside for the first half of the 20th century, explained Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center, in an email.
“There were Jewish merchants living in various towns but no established Jewish communities like there were along the rivers. A series of events in the 1950s turned the region into the suburb it is today.”
Those events included the construction of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway and the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, which connected Monroeville to downtown Pittsburgh, and the opening of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center, according to Lidji.
“The first Jewish families began settling in the Garden City and Eastgate Manor sections of Monroeville during this time, arriving from Pittsburgh and from small towns in the area,” Lidji said. “They formed the Monroeville Jewish Congregation and voted to associate with the Reform movement in the summer of 1957. They held services that fall and adopted the name Temple David, inspired by local signs for King David Realty. They chartered the congregation in 1958.”
The 60th anniversary year kicked off last weekend with events including a Shabbat dinner, a lunch on Saturday, and a program on Sunday in which Lidji spoke about the history of Jews and the Reform movement in Monroeville.
Other 60th anniversary events to occur throughout the year include a Hamantaschen Hop on Feb. 24, an Art in Residence weekend on April 20-22 and a celebration of six decades of religious school on April 29. An anniversary reunion weekend will be held in October, and a closing celebratory weekend will take place in December.
Symons attributes the congregation’s continued emphasis on education to the tone set by Edelstein almost 60 years ago.
“The way Rabbi Edelstein helped craft this congregation was key to the strength we still have,” Symons said.
The congregation maintains an active religious school — students are required to attend through confirmation — and also hosts the Jewish East Suburban Preschool. Eight members of the congregation have gone on to become rabbis over the years. Several adult education programs are also offered.
“We have education at all levels,” said Myerowitz. “Education is our specialty.”
Another strength of the congregation is its lay leadership, according to its president, Kay Liss, who noted the “active auxiliaries, including Sisterhood.”
“We are very much a lay-led congregation, and I take deep pride in that,” added Symons.
Celebrating the congregation’s 60th year is a way to “mark sacred time, allowing us to reflect back with pride and look forward to what is next,” Symons said.
What’s next will be layered onto the already strong foundation the congregation has established, but with an eye toward evolution.
“We want to continue the themes we had in the past and approach them in a way that is relevant to our times,” said Symons. “Temple David is a house of learning, a house of prayer and a house of gathering. My goal is to make Temple David a second home for people. The relevancy of Judaism is what we’re trying to bring to our congregants and other Jews in the area.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at