Community organizations must have our support to thrive

Community organizations must have our support to thrive

If the Pittsburgh Jewish community wants to maintain its viability, its members and its foundations must support its Jewish institutions

Photo by sabinevanerp via Pixabay
Photo by sabinevanerp via Pixabay

The Jewish Association on Aging’s recent announcement that it will no longer maintain a kosher kitchen at Weinberg Terrace, its personal care facility on Bartlett Street, has touched a nerve in the community. While certified kosher food will still be available to those seniors who want it, it will be prepared off-site, 2.5 miles away at the JAA’s main campus, double-wrapped then delivered.

The kitchen at Weinberg Terrace will no longer be under the supervision of the Vaad. There will be a separate dining area for
those kosher residents who prefer not to dine with those eating non-kosher food.

This change may be offensive or demoralizing to some of the elders who chose Weinberg as their home based on its Jewish character, including the fact that it had a kosher kitchen.

We are troubled that some of those seniors who require a kosher diet — 20% of JAA residents, according to the organization’s internal survey — may feel “othered” by the new policy, eating pre-packaged meals while the majority dines on meals made in-house.

We fear this change in JAA policy will affect not only the current residents of Weinberg Terrace but also future generations of Jewish seniors who want to live in a home with a kosher kitchen. We worry that some may choose facilities in other cities as a result, thus eroding the long-term viability of Pittsburgh’s diverse Jewish community.

The news of the JAA’s impending dietary changes has frustrated, saddened and angered many Jewish Pittsburghers. While we agree in principle with those who maintain that a Jewish senior residence should serve kosher food exclusively, we were disheartened by the aggressive tone and misinformation posted by some community members on social media regarding this issue.

JAA leaders said they did not come to their decision lightly, and we trust that is true. Faced with rising costs and declining donations, they prioritized health care, security and benevolent care — ensuring that no resident will be forced to leave because of an inability to pay. Something had to give.

We at the Chronicle understand the constraints of a Jewish nonprofit that struggles to meet its mission in the face of community support that is declining or not keeping up with rising costs.

The bottom line is, if the Pittsburgh Jewish community wants to maintain its viability, its members and its foundations must support its Jewish institutions by utilizing them and by contributing to them financially.

When that support is lacking, those Jewish institutions — congregations, day schools, camps and early childhood centers, for example — will be forced to make hard decisions. Some will invariably be diminished, or perhaps fade away entirely.

It is up to those of us who wish to see the Jewishness of Jewish Pittsburgh thrive to ensure that it has the means to do so.

Last week, a petition was circulated calling for the JAA to delay the implementation of its new food policy until its leaders could meet with community members to discuss how to preserve the kosher character of Weinberg Terrace. It states, in part: “Any resolution … can only come through respectful and open dialogue between all stakeholders. We request that the leadership of the JAA listen to the concerns of all of the stakeholders and consider alternative methods to address budget shortfalls.”

We urge JAA leaders to take this plea to heart and engage in productive, transparent community discussions. We encourage the JAA to provide the community with more information about the cost differential between running a fully kosher kitchen and the hybrid option that has been proposed so that the community can work together productively and cohesively toward a satisfactory solution.

And we hope that the Pittsburgh Jewish community is willing to do its part by stepping up to the plate and offering the necessary support to help maintain a kosher kitchen at Weinberg Terrace.

Community organizations need our help. And what better time than the High Holidays to extend it? PJC

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