Even in a city with unending gray skies, the sun sets.
So, with 2022 now nearing its end, it’s time to review the year that was.
Between new homes, new hires, rising costs, surging antisemitism and a bridge collapse, 2022 was one to remember.
Here are the Chronicle’s top stories of the year:
The year began with reverberations of past seasons. The city’s three Jewish day schools spent January weathering COVID-related sickness and staff shortages. Despite the hardships, faculty and staff — many of whom serve double-duty as parents — persevered.
Jennifer Bails, director of marketing and communications at Community Day School, told the Chronicle, “They’re managing their stress, their families. They’re managing the stress of
knowing that kids who they care about and love and nurture every day are catching the virus. And they are doing their job under circumstances that are less than ideal with grace and professionalism.”
Collapse of Fern Hollow Bridge
On Friday morning, Jan. 28, the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. The event, which drew national attention, coincided with a scheduled visit to Pittsburgh by President Joe Biden.
“I’ve been coming to Pittsburgh a long time,” Biden said, noting the large number of bridges in the city. “And we’re going to fix them all.”
As of press time, the Fern Hollow Bridge was slated to open by the end of December.
Fighting for better care
Every February, Jewish organizations worldwide mark Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. In Pittsburgh, local advocates called out state restrictions on funding. The shortage of care professionals is a direct result of Pennsylvanian policy, noted Ruth Siegfried, of InVision Human Services. The nearly 200 Pennsylvania-based agencies cannot control the rates for home- and community-based services (HCBS) because Medicaid is the only payer of intellectual disability and autism services, she said.
Alison Karabin, project manager at The Branch (formerly Jewish Residential Services), said that although change can be effectuated by state leaders, the work begins at home.
“This is an area where people contacting their representatives and writing letters can make a difference,” Karabin said. “Advocating for better funding for direct support professionals is something we can all do, and it’s important for our voices to be heard.”
Responding to invasion of Ukraine
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 20, 2022. In the weeks and months following, Pittsburghers offered support. JFCS staffers fielded calls from local residents looking to help.
Immigration attorneys offered expertise. Organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, raised money. Federation CEO and President Jeffrey Finkelstein traveled to Poland and witnessed relief efforts for fleeing Ukrainians. Finkelstein told the Chronicle that Pittsburghers were compelled to help for several reasons.
“A lot of our families come from there,” he said. “It’s part of Pittsburgh’s nature that when Jewish communities are under attack, in any way, whatever that attack means, we step up. We’ve done it during different attacks within Israel. We step up and give above our weight class. It’s our nature as Pittsburghers.”
New name, new entity, seismic purpose
During a May 3 press conference, Tree of Life Congregation Rabbi Jeffrey Myers and Carla Swickerath of Studio Libeskind — the architecture firm contracted to rebuild the shuttered site — unveiled plans for a new national institution dedicated to ending antisemitism.
Myers said the goal is lofty but noted that ending hate involves more than stopping the persecution of Jews.
“People who commit antisemitic acts are not merely antisemites; they’re anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-Asian, anti-Pacific Islander and any group they’re not comfortable with,” Myers said. “They spew forth their vile language and action.”
Tree of Life representatives also announced that the congregation will be a separate entity from a newly established nonprofit and will be housed in the Tree of Life building. It will have its own CEO and board of directors and will oversee the building. Myers will continue to serve as the congregation’s rabbi.
More than 200 community members joined the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh on a Mega Mission to Israel. The June 13-21 trip enabled participants to visit Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Karmiel/Misgav, Haifa, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Masada. In addition to visiting historical and cultural sites, participants observed projects and spaces supported by Federation efforts.
Ellen Teri Kaplan Goldstein, Community Campaign chair, said the trip was a chance to see Israel in ways not usually portrayed by the evening news.
Added journey, new beginnings
Following the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Mega Mission to Israel, a group of almost 20 Mission attendees traveled from Jerusalem to the United Arab Emirates between June 22 and 26.
Federation senior vice president and chief development officer Brian Eglash told the Chronicle that visiting UAE was a chance to “connect with the growing and burgeoning Dubai Jewish community.”
Response to Dobbs
Following the June 24 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which sent the question of abortion rights back to the states, members of the Jewish community responded.
Former Women of Reform Judaism president and Temple Sinai member Lynn Lazar said that the Court’s decision requires people to “keep fighting for our rights, unfortunately, even after 50 years.”
Conversely, Cecily Routman, president of the Pittsburgh-based Jewish Pro-Life Foundation, said, “The justices of the Supreme Court corrected the major errors in jurisprudence that happened in 1973 because the Constitution does not enumerate, spell out, the right to abortion.”
Added costs of education
As inflation reached a 40-year high, parents and teachers experienced new burdens. The price of markers, glue sticks, folders and other classroom staples soared. Local organizations and the Jewish day schools responded by directing community members to spaces where resources and supplies were available.
Day school representatives told the Chronicle that they tried to help defray costs, but they, too, experienced increased expenses.
Rabbi Sam Weinberg, of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, said he received a request from “every single teacher” for a raise due to inflation. The appeals make sense, he continued, as “everything has gone up; stuff is more expensive.”
Jonathan Schachter z”l
Shortly before his retirement as executive director of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association of Greater Pittsburgh, Jonathan Schachter died unexpectedly. Apart from leading the group as a staffer, Schachter also served as a volunteer and president of the organization. Schacter was an active member in the New Community Chevra Kadisha and a widely respected member of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
“Jonathan was somebody who was truly committed to community,” Congregation Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Seth Adelson said. “He was a person who was dependable and Jewishly knowledgeable and willing to give his time for people in need.”
New pulpit posts
Following the retirement of Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, Rabbi Yitzi Genack assumed the spiritual helm of Shaare Torah Congregation. Genack previously served Riverdale Jewish Center for 11 years.
Genack told the Chronicle that his goal is to “foster a community that reaches outward.” That desire, he said, reflects his personality: “I want to get to know people, be there with them and foster relationships.”
After leaving her role as director of Jewish life at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh in March, Rabbi Amy Bardack accepted the position of rabbi at Congregation Dor Hadash. The part-time post enables Bardack to return to her roots: She began her career as a pulpit rabbi in Greenwich Village.
“Now’s a good time in life to go back to the pulpit,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I left Federation — the unprecedented opportunity for pulpit rabbis.”
Bettering the community, but mourning continues
Weeks before marking four years since the antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life building, the community mourned another loss. Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor and Tree of Life member whose late arrival to services on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, likely spared his life, died. Samet was a regular minyan-goer and an outspoken and celebrated member of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
“He was such a strong, solid guy — he was a fighter,” said Alan Hausman, president of Tree of Life. “There was the perception that he’d last forever. He was a one-of-a-kind person. He was incredibly learned; he knew all the Talmud and all the parsha and he’d always have a question to ask the rabbi.”
Throughout October, the community volunteered, studied Torah and gathered together in memory of the 11 people murdered inside the Tree of Life building.
Elections make Pennsylvania firmly blue
Pittsburghers and Pennsylvanians rejected the idea of a midterm national red wave, and after tallying the ballots, election officials reported that the commonwealth was blue. Democrat Attorney General Josh Shapiro defeated his Republican gubernatorial opponent Doug Mastriano by nearly 13%; Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman beat TV personality and Pennsylvania transplant Dr. Mehmet Oz; Democrat Chris Deluzio defeated Jeremy Shaffer to keep Rep. Connor Lamb’s 17th District congressional seat blue; and Democrat Summer Lee was declared the victor shortly after the polls closed in her race against Republican Mike Doyle in the commonwealth’s 12th District.
Renovated bowling alley clears lane for teen care
Teens, community members, elected officials and mental health professionals joined JFCS Pittsburgh for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the former Forward Lanes in Squirrel Hill, introducing the first physical location for UpStreet Pittsburgh. In October 2020, JFCS launched UpStreet (upstreetpgh.org) as an innovative virtual means for teens and young adults (ages 12-22) to easily access free mental health services.
“Of the 44,000 youths living in the city of Pittsburgh, 20% struggle with their mental health; and suicide is the second-largest cause of death for this same demographic,” JFCS Chief Operating Officer Dana Gold said.
During the past two years, more than 2,000 young people have used the UpStreet virtual service, according to UpStreet Clinical Coordinator Erin Barr.
Having a physical space that’s walking distance from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, the day schools and several bus lines was key, JFCS President and CEO Jordan Golin said: “It's going to be really easy for kids after school just to walk on over and get help.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.