After three years at Congregation Poale Zedeck, Hillel Academy plans to relocate its boys high school this month to Pittsburgh’s largest Conservative congregation.
With the move, Hillel Academy, which bills itself as an “Orthodox community day school,” will leave its current location in the educational building tucked behind Poale Zedeck, an Orthodox synagogue, for new digs at Congregation Beth Shalom, on Shady and Beacon. The move is a rare example of cross-denominational space sharing in Pittsburgh.
The need for a gym and for improved classroom space motivated the move, according to Daniel Kraut, executive director of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh.
“We had been shuttling the kids once a week to the JCC [Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh],” Kraut said. “We’ve had a basketball team for years now, and we needed a place to practice. Also, we will now be able to have gym classes twice a week; and, when the boys have a break, they can go to play in the gym.”
Kraut called the classrooms at Beth Shalom “gorgeous,” and said he hopes they will help the school meet its goal of doubling enrollment by 2012.
“It’s really a nice facility,” he said, “and when you are going out to recruit new students, you need a top notch facility.”
Hillel Academy is trying to increase enrollment by “upgrading its programming,” and adding new staff, including Rabbi Sam Weinberg, who will serve as the school’s assistant principal and curriculum coordinator. The school currently enrolls 25 students in its boys’ high school.
“Our eventual goal as a school is that we will be up to 50 boys in three years,” Kraut said.
Hillel was looking for new space last November when Lee Levitt, executive director of Beth Shalom, approached Kraut. Beth Shalom had underused space and wanted to see if Hillel would be interested in filling it.
“We were looking at it from a Jewish organizational standpoint,” Levitt said. “They appeared to have a need, and we were able to fill that need.”
Beth Shalom is an 88,000 square foot facility, which includes a gymnasium, multiple meeting areas, and a library, as well as classrooms used by the Beth Shalom religious school on weekday afternoons and Sundays.
“We’re excited,” Levitt said about sharing space with the boys high school. “We’re thrilled that our youths in our community can learn in an exceptional environment. And we’re happy to be using the limited resources in our community to fill a very positive need.”
Levitt said that Beth Shalom would coordinate the use of its various spaces with Hillel.
While the term of the current arrangement is one year, “it could evolve,” Levitt said. “Both sides will see how it works.”
Kraut said the ideological differences between the Orthodox and Conservative movements posed no problems for either Hillel or Beth Shalom, and that no special accommodations were needed to share the space.
Any differences in standards of kashrut would not pose a problem, as the Hillel boys will not be using Beth Shalom’s kitchen, but will be bringing brown bag lunches to school, as they always have, said Kraut. Likewise, Kraut sees no problems posed by the different ways the two movements view the role of women in Judaism.
“We’re not using the entire building,” Kraut pointed out. “And those issues never came up. The goal is for Hillel to become a community boys high school. Love for all Jews is in the mission statement. I see no problem with going into this Conservative facility.”
Kraut said that the move has a lot of support from both the board of Hillel, and the families of the boys.
“The parents are excited that the kids will have a nice facility with a gym,” he said, adding, “It’s an unbelievable thing. Here’s a Conservative shul and an Orthodox high school. The idea of these two groups coming together is an incredible outcome for the community.”
Elana Bloom, the mother of an incoming freshman at Hillel , said she does not see any problem with moving the school into a Conservative facility, and looks at the move as a positive step for the community at large.
“We see it as a community resource, and it’s a beautiful facility that seems to be underused. This is an example of the community binding together. It’s wonderful that we can form these types of partnerships.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)