Everything on the table

Everything on the table

We were gratified to receive so many letters from community leaders lauding Rabbi Aaron Bisno’s May 19 guest column, which called for a “courageous conversation” on the future of Jewish Pittsburgh. We, too, favor a courageous conversation, which we think is long overdue.
But let’s be clear on what a courageous conversation means. We can’t speak for everyone, but we say it means every aspect of this community should be on the table and open for discussion.
No sacred cows.
It also means that every facet of the process — hearings, committee meetings, votes — should be completely transparent.
Some people may not be prepared to accept such ground rules, but we believe they’re the only way to assure the validity of the process.
Others may not be prepared to accept the proposed changes, which could be very radical indeed. Such proposals could lead to turf wars between people who are not ready to let go of community institutions, which they find warm and familiar, and which their families have supported for generations.
That’s understandable. Change, however necessary, is always difficult.
Bisno offered one example of difficult change in his column: Sunday schools. Does every congregation really need one? Isn’t it duplication of effort?
Here are some other examples, provided by us:
• Erase the dichotomy between city and suburban Jews: Not enough has been done in this area. There is no difference between an actively involved Jew from Squirrel Hill and an actively involved Jew from Moon Township. Yet a percep- tion stubbornly exists that city Jews are more connected to the community infrastructure while the suburbanites are on the outs. That must be corrected.
• A single day school instead of three: Is that possible? Can Reform, Conservative and Orthodox children and teens re- ally attend the same school together? Would parents stand for it? We think it is possible and would create a stronger, more tolerant and cohesive community if it were done. Of course, adjustments for curriculum and observance would have to be made. Different study tracks would have to be set up, much like a university setting. But having kids study under one roof would go along way to breaking down the walls between us.
• Merging congregations: This would be the thorniest issue of all. Many families have been vested in their synagogues and temples for decades. But unless there’s a sudden infusion of Jews to the region, which isn’t likely, merger or outright closure of several congregations is in the offing. Isn’t it better to negotiate merger sooner, under our own terms, rather than later, when financial constraints may dictate the deals?
Don’t kill the messenger. We’re simply asking questions, the kind of difficult questions a courageous conversation would raise. And these are just a few examples; we’re sure you have many of your own.
It’s a good sign that so many leaders are prepared for a courageous conversation. Now comes the hard part — having it.