Pittsburghers make aliyah rather than face “horror” of bridge and tunnel commute
“We just didn’t want to deal with the mishegas,” Rebekah Stein explained from her Tel Aviv apartment. “Once our daughter moved to Upper St. Clair, it didn’t seem to make much sense to stay in Squirrel Hill. I mean our friends and family are in the city, Nancy lives in the South Hills. We would’ve spent our remaining years in the car.”
“You never know when there will be traffic,” her husband Mel screamed from the living room over the sound of the Israeli version of “Wheel of Fortune.” “What are we supposed to do, guess when there would be a back-up at the tunnel or work to figure out when the Liberty Bridge is three lanes outbound instead of two lanes inbound? Who needs the trouble?”
“I know it might not make sense for everyone,” Stein explained, “but to us it was easier to move to Israel and when we want to visit Nancy, it’s a simple plane ride to Pittsburgh International with a connection through JFK. From there, it’s a quick jaunt down the Parkway West — no bridges, no tunnel, no fuss.”
The Steins are typical of the newest trend in relocation: Jewish couples of retirement age making aliyah from Pittsburgh rather than face the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and Liberty Bridge or Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel.
The couple decided to liquidate their home at a loss and move into a $4,000-a-month apartment half the size in Israel. They aren’t alone.
Mike Leibensen knew it was time to trade his family’s home for a studio apartment in Jerusalem once his doctor changed locations from Greenfield to Green Tree.
“Could I have found a new doctor? Maybe. Could I have sat in traffic for 45 minutes? Probably. Neither option seemed like a good idea,” he said. “I mean, if I went to Green Tree for my regular physical, I would have had to pack a sack lunch to eat halfway there and then I wouldn’t be able to get most of my tests done. Here, security might be a worry from time to time and, since my parents were more cultural than spiritual, I never really learned Hebrew, which makes the language a bit of an issue, but I never have to worry about construction on the Parkway East.”
Those making pilgrimage to the Promised Land aren’t only from Squirrel Hill and the East End.
“I’ve decided to move to a kibbutz,” Marsha Stein explained outside of Panera in the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon. “I looked into it and by working on a farm I’ll have enough money to last through my retirement years. I know finding a Reform temple might be tough but I’m willing to accept the inconveniences.”
The idea of traveling from Mt. Lebanon to Monroeville for Passover seder with her son Matt’s family was one bridge too far for Stein.
“The horror, I’m telling you, the absolute horror, of the commute was too much to bear,” she said. “I mean, Matt doesn’t cook and his wife’s food leaves a lot to be desired, so I would be forced to cook a brisket, wrap it in aluminum foil, schlep all the way out past the mall — for what? Because he found a job teaching in the Gateway School District? Forget it.”
One local South Hills rabbi who asked to remain anonymous said he understood his congregants packing their bags: “If one more of my tires need to be changed because of a pothole on the Boulevard of the Allies, I’m going to pack my bags as well.
“Everyone thinks it’s so easy to get to a meeting at the Squirrel Hill JCC and be there on time. I have to figure out my whole day before leaving, making sure I have change for the parking meter and if it’s raining, I might as well set aside an entire extra hour. It’s too much.”
Marmot at minyan?
Pennsylvania’s most famous resident may be coming soon to a synagogue near you. Punxsutawney Phil, the iconic groundhog responsible for declaring the start of spring, has indicated a growing desire to join the Jewish fold.
Long rumored to be areligious, sources close to the woodchuck indicated that Phil’s penchant for faith has actually been brewing for a while.
“I’ve known Phil since he was a pup. He’s always been a mystically minded creature,” said an unidentified mole. “This doesn’t surprise me.”
An avid reader who can’t let go of a good book once he gets his claws into it, Phil has been digesting Jewish literature for years. A visit to Phil’s burrow reveals decades-old traces of Leon Uris, Naomi Ragen and Herman Wouk paperbacks.
Even so, what prompted Phil to go from reader to believer is unclear.
Social media posts and friends close to Phil point to a multiseasonal spat between him and Inner Circle members. According to documents obtained by the Chronicle, the bulk of the mess stems from a summer 2018 filing. Months before entering hibernation, Phil requested time off. A cryptic note scratched in Groundhogese, matching Phil’s other writings, reads, “Feb. 2, 2019 is a Saturday. I need to be somewhere that morning.”
After management denied Phil’s request, Phil cited his religious freedoms, “scurried out of the office” and wasn’t seen for months.
“He has a tendency to bury himself in things, so we didn’t think much of it at the time,” said an unnamed source.
As February 2019 approached, communication between the parties was nonexistent. Phil wasn’t answering calls, texts or faxes, and concern was growing. Finally, on Feb. 1, 2019, the Twitter account @TheRealGroundhogPhil posted “Slalom.”
The following day, Phil showed up for work, and all seemed well.
Having dedicated countless hours to investigating the relationship between Phil and Inner Circle members, the Chronicle has determined that while the Feb. 1 message initially seemed to reference Phil’s interest in downhill skiing, it actually indicates a coded wish.
“Phil took a lot of time to sleep on the matter and what he realized was that even before officially becoming Jewish he could adopt a key tenet of the faith: peace in the home,” said a friend. “Phil is all about Shalom Bayit. His Feb. 1 tweet was an attempt to promote that message, but unfortunately his claws forced a typo and here we are.”
What this means for those hoping to see Phil at a future Friday night service remains uncertain.
“All I can say is Phil loves peace,” continued the friend. “Whether he decides to take the plunge and officially convert, who knows. What we know for sure is he’s pretty comfortable in a mikvah.”
Hurricane names announced for 2021
The World Meteorological Organization has released potential hurricane names for the upcoming 2021 tropical storm season, deviating in large part from its long-standing practice of choosing names that are familiar and easy to remember.
The list of names for 2021 names, which have never before been used to describe a weather event, include Bluma, Dudel, Feivish, Glukel, and Shleimy.
Schvitzy Henteleh, new head of storm names at the WMO, acknowledged the names were unusual and a departure from the norm, but opined that a raging tropical storm deserved a name better suited to its strength.
“What, we’re going to go with something ordinary like ‘Bob’ or ‘Betty’?” queried Henteleh. “A hurricane—now that’s a big megillah.”
In past years, hurricane namers followed the conventional wisdom of using simple names to reduce confusion when several tropical storms brewed simultaneously.
No more, spat Henteleh.
“Gornisht,” he said. “Better we should have names that have some meat sticking to their kishkes.”
Historically, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the saint’s day on which they occurred.
Henteleh is going for something completely different, he said.
“Saints, I know bubkes about saints. What I do know is a good heimesha name when I hear one,” he said.
Chronicle chooses new means of communication
Following a Chronicle-convened focus group, Pittsburgh’s Jewish newspaper has adopted a strategy for targeting younger readers. The weekly publication with a more than 100-year history will release stories via TikTok, the popular video sharing network.
“We had several discussions on the topic and this is the direction we feel most confident about,” said Chronicle board chair Reed Nuze.
Discussions about the paper’s communicative future began months ago after the Chronicle’s staff replaced their bylines with hedcuts of mammalian-like emojis.
Users of the subreddit r/whatsupatthechronicle immediately praised the move.
“Getting in touch with you guys has never been cooler,” posted IAmYoungbutLikePrintedNews.
“Agreed. Not sure why the writer with the raccoon ears and lion’s mane is so worried about early morning ordering practices at kosher food trucks in Oakland, but I’m hungry to learn more,” wrote NcollegeAndjewish.
Changes to the paper will be effective immediately.
Uncontroversial seder conversation topics down to woodworking, beige
On March 2, the Jewish Coalitions of North America released its annual list of approved conversation topics for the upcoming Pesach celebrations, and for the 5780th consecutive year, according to the report, the list of acceptable topics has been further winnowed down.
Discouraged topics now include dogs, “Schindler’s List,” hummus, any figure of the Byzantine Empire, Don Rickles, Paleolithic-era tools, the concept of anxiety, Søren Kierkegaard’s “The Concept of Anxiety,” the military, military time, uppers, downers, Upper Dublin, Downingtown, knock-knock jokes, eggs with two yolks, Shakespeare and any intimation that he didn’t really write his plays, ballpoint pens, barnyard hens, the invention of the transition lens, cousin Alan, Post-It notes, New Yorker totes, milk made from oats, castles (those with or without moats), Ireland or any Irish people, lasers, books, cooks, nooks (don’t even think about crannies), well-placed semicolons, economic displacement, meat replacements, The Replacements, unfinished basements, whether something could be had for all the tea in China, puns, nuns, guns, unfounded allegations, slant rhymes, the Hubble Telescope, Hubba Bubba Max bubblegum, any religion, Pope Honorius I, Pope Honorius II, Pope Honorius III, Pope Honorius IV, death, the death of sincerity, the death of God, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” the death of Elvis, Elvis Costello, Abbott & Costello, the upstairs neighbors, the Sunday papers, reminiscing about pagers, content creators, paved roads, deli meat, smelly feet, and whether or not the logo that bounces around a screensaver ever perfectly hits a corner. pjc