About 18 months ago, Jack Cohen and Michael Berman, who had been childhood friends, began reaching out to see if other Jews lived in Cranberry.
To their pleasant surprise, they found more people than they had expected, people who shared their interest in establishing a community close to home.
Result: Jews living in and around Cranberry Township are finally finding each other.
Initially calling itself Cranberry Community Jews, the group has since changed its name to the Cranberry Jewish Community. The group has grown to about 35 households since its inception.
Whether they’re building a new community or giving an identity to an existing but formerly noncohesive community, the growth of the group in the past year is a good sign to the original members.
“Our purpose was to educate the community, to let them know we exist,” said Cohen, who is president of the CJC. The group’s mission statement is, “Bringing together individuals of the Jewish faith from the Cranberry Township Community and surrounding areas for fellowship and cultural-based activities.”
In addition to monthly meetings at the Cranberry Community Center, the group has hosted several well-attended events.
Sandi Hewko of Adams Township is on the social committee, along with four other women; they are dedicated to planning three to four events per year. In addition to a “Shabbat & Schmooze” last year, for example, the group had a Chanuka party, which was B.Y.O.M. (Bring Your Own Menora). About 35 families attended, and while all the menoras were simultaneously burning, each family told a story about how the menora came to be in their possession.
The ages of those who attended ranged from 2 to 92, Cohen said, including some married couples living in nearby senior homes. Cohen personally picked up and dropped off the seniors, according to Hewko.
The group has attendees from Cranberry and other communities in Butler County, such as Zelienople, Mars and as far away as Saxonburg, as well as from other northern Allegheny County neighborhoods.
“There were some who thought we might want to start a temple, but that was never the case,” Cohen said. “Our intent was to have a presence and come together as a community. You never know where that will take you.”
The majority of attendees are unaffiliated with any specific congregation, he added.
Between notices in the neighborhood papers, the website and word of mouth, the group seems to grow with each function it hosts.
While he had no preconceived notions about the size of the group, Cohen said he is pleased at how it has grown and the interest shown by the community. In fact, the growth of the CJC has prompted it to file for 501(c)(3) status.
“We’re planning to get a lot stronger and a lot more organized,” Cohen said. “Last year was a great way to begin the process; we were just getting to know each other and finding out what the group wanted.”
Being Jewish in the suburbs can get lonely, Hewko said.
“There aren’t that many of us, at least not that we know of,” she said. “This has brought a lot of people together. We had no idea there were this many Jewish families out there. I’ve made some wonderful new friends,” she said.
The group has a Purim brunch planned for March; also on the calendar is a trip to the Maridon Museum in Butler.
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at email@example.com.)