B’nai Emunoh Congregation in Greenfield has transferred the title to its synagogue to Chabad Lubavitch of Pittsburgh, and has changed its name to B’nai Emunoh Chabad.
Rabbi Joseph Weiss, spiritual leader of the 80-year-old Orthodox congregation on South Murray Avenue for the last 38 years, has been replaced by Rabbi Chonie Friedman, according to Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, director of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.
“I am helping them any way I can,” Weiss said. He will become rabbi emeritus of the congregation.
“This is a positive thing for B’nai Emunoh,” said Joel Pirchesky, president of the congregation, noting that the transfer to Chabad was decided by congregational vote.
“We did it to increase membership and to continue the vitality of the synagogue. We look forward to the future of B’nai Emunoh Chabad,” Pirchesky added.
The transfer was born out of a need to expand the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill to a nearby area with more affordable housing, combined with B’nai Emunoh’s need to find a solution to its dwindling membership, according to Rosenfeld. He sees Chabad’s expansion into Greenfield, or “south Squirrel Hill,” as a natural progression for a Jewish community looking for housing alternatives.
“The community of Squirrel Hill is growing,” he said. “New families are moving into town. We are bursting at the seams. There is a need for affordable housing, and a need to expand.”
“We heard that B’nai Emunoh was about to close,” he continued. “They were considering selling their building and closing it. They claimed that they were finding it difficult to get a minyan, and that people weren’t coming. They felt that they didn’t need to exist.”
Rosenfeld asked to meet with leaders of B’nai Emunoh last February to discuss a transfer of the synagogue to Chabad.
“I felt that it would be a big mistake for that shul to close,” he said. “It has a lot of potential. And our community has begun to grow. We were looking for an option for people to move to an area where housing costs were not as big as in Squirrel Hill.”
Originally from Kansas City, Friedman has already begun to lead services at the synagogue. He sees Greenfield as a growing Jewish community of which B’nai Emunoh Chabad will be a vital part.
“We hope to put more life in, and bring the shul back,” he said.
The membership of B’nai Emunoh was down to about 40 families at the time of the deal, he added. “For the past few years, it has been losing membership. We want to revitalize it and get it to grow.”
Friedman also noted the Russian Jewish community in Greenfield, which he hopes the newly revamped congregation will reach.
“There is also a large senior population and a large Russian population. There are about 1,000 Jews within a mile of the shul. We will be bringing Chabad programs and the Chabad style to B’nai Emunoh. The new expansion of these programs is what the community needs, and it will allow it to prosper.”
Chabad has agreed to maintain the congregation’s current customs and liturgy, at least for the time being.
“All the customs and traditions will stay intact as long as the membership is intact and wants them to be intact,” said Friedman.
Several young Jewish families have already made the move to Greenfield, Rosenfeld said, and he has also fielded inquiries about the area from out-of-towners thinking of relocating.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Rosenfeld said. “Young people can and will move there if there’s a functioning shul to fit their needs.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)