I write in response to Rabbi Aaron B. Bisno’s letter, “Study Points to need for congregational unity” (March 2). I absolutely agree that the findings of the Pittsburgh 2017 Jewish Community Study indicate that Reform and Conservative congregations must work together if our “shared enterprise” is to persevere in light of severe reductions in individuals joining and paying dues to brick-and-mortar synagogues. I am happy to reassure Rabbi Bisno that lay leadership in the East End is not “tarrying,” and that exciting collaboration among institutions is well underway.
As President of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha for the past five years, I can speak to our experience interacting with neighboring shuls in light of the demographic, sociological and economic challenges Rabbi Bisno cites. TOL*OLS undertook a painstaking introspection and examination of community demographics, which persuaded us that if synagogues keep operating within their individual silos, we will all face a collective demise in slow, separate deaths. We concluded that we could not save ourselves, by ourselves.
I reached out to the non-Orthodox East End synagogues, including Rabbi Bisno’s own Rodef Shalom, and was pleased that all were open to considering new ways of doing things. My personal take-away from our three meetings was that we were all experiencing the same issues of declining revenue and growth to varying degrees, but that some leaders were more complacent than others.
Those meetings bore fruit when New Light’s leadership approached us with a plan to sell their building and enter into a space-sharing relationship with TOL*OLS. We were impressed with their clear-eyed appraisal of today’s challenges and their bold proposal for meeting them. We then worked to solidify our relationship with Congregation Dor Hadash, which was already sharing space with us.
We now have a tremendously successful “metropolitan” model of synagogues sharing a facility, expenses and programming under one roof, while retaining our individual identities and assets. All three congregations are already reaping benefits in a building now full of life and activity.
The collaboration that Rabbi Bisno calls for is going strong at the corner of Wilkins and Shady.
Michael S. Eisenberg, DDS
President, Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation