The Agency for Jewish Learning has downsized its space from its large, former building at the Community Day School campus to five rooms within Rodef Shalom Congregation, a move that reflects the organization’s ongoing shift to provide more programming off site within the greater Jewish community.
While its new headquarters still houses a resource library open to educators and the public at large, it will serve primarily as the location for planning educational opportunities that will take place elsewhere.
“We have about 2,400 square feet here,” AJL Executive Director Ed Frim said of his new digs. “We had more space than we needed before because we were doing most of our classes outside [of CDS].”
The move was motivated, in part, by financial considerations.
“We moved for a number of reasons,” Frim said. “We will be saving a lot financially; we are saving a significant amount in rent. And we did want to arrange things so that people could work more in proximity to each other. We really are working more as a team now.”
The congregation is a good landlord, Frim said of Rodef Shalom. “They take a lot of pride in the building here; it’s a beautiful facility.”
He emphasized that the relocation of the agency should not be construed as a particular alignment with the congregation where it is housed.
“We are trying to be careful about being here,” he said. “We hope it doesn’t send any messages about who we serve. We’re still here for everyone that we were here for before the move.”
Other Jewish agencies also rent space from Rodef Shalom, including the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee and Jewish Residential Services.
“It’s nice being with the other tenants,” Frim said. “There’s a lot of moving going around. It’s just sort of the trend now. We’re all trying to make the best use of our communal space.”
Most AJL classes will be run outside of Rodef Shalom, according to Rabbi Scott Aaron, the agency’s community scholar.
“There will be very little here outside of Hebrew,” Aaron said. “Most things will be communally based.
The idea is taking learning and opportunities into the community.”
Overall, the AJL will be running fewer classes directly, but will aid other agencies in their own programming.
The Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, once a hallmark of the agency, will not be offered at any area synagogue this year, according to Aaron. Instead, it will be offered at the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Riverview Towers senior apartments. The class at Charles Morris will be designed for communal professionals who work at the Jewish Association on Aging as well as the rest of the community, and the class at Riverview will be an abbreviated Melton course for Riverview residents only.
The agency does plan to offer a Melton Foundations of Jewish Family Living course at CDS and a Melton Renew refresher course for its graduates.
The AJL will focus on serving as a resource for other organizations to develop special interest courses, Aaron said, such as a Melton Holocaust curriculum to be taught at the Holocaust Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“We are trying to bring more learning opportunities to people’s interest areas,” he said.
The agency will continue to run 12 credits of continuing legal education courses this year, Aaron said.
J-SITE classes will still be run through the AJL, with Hebrew and Judaic classes continuing at Chatham University on Sundays. Wednesday J-SITE classes may be moved from their current location at the Jewish Community Center to Rodef Shalom, though. “We have a more limited number of kids,” Frim said.
He sees the move to Rodef Shalom as providing an opportunity to reflect on the future role of the AJL in the community.
“This coming year, we are going to be evaluating a lot of the things we do and determine whether our current structure is the best one, or if we need to adjust it,” Frim said. “Moving is a good opportunity to review it. Many of the things we do are done in partnerships with synagogues or the Federation. We have to determine what’s best for our participants.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)