JCBA grows, welcomes new leaders
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JCBASmall staff big charge

JCBA grows, welcomes new leaders

With strong leadership and dedicated board, local organization grows endowment and continues serving community

Before and after photos of Old Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in Shaler. (Photos courtesy of JCBA)
Before and after photos of Old Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in Shaler. (Photos courtesy of JCBA)

Almost four years after taking the helm of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association of Greater Pittsburgh and helping grow the organization in stature and scope, Barry Rudel is stepping down. Effective Jan. 1, Kelly Schwimer will succeed the retiring Rudel as executive director.

Schwimer, the operations manager at JCBA, praised Rudel and the organization’s board for enabling meaningful and sustainable development.

“In 2020, when Barry came on board, we had 11 cemeteries under our purview. Now, we’re at 43,” she said.

Rudel said he was hired “on the first day of the pandemic to strengthen the existing JCBA.”

According to financials, that charge has been largely accomplished.

In the fiscal year ending June 2020, JCBA had net assets of $751,008. That sum has grown every year since. According to tax filings published by ProPublica, JCBA’s net assets in the fiscal year ending in June were $3,738,145.

Developing a “large unrestricted endowment” has been successful, but the organization has also increased the number of cemeteries under its care, Rudel said. “Some of the cemeteries have gone from a deplorable condition to a good condition. And we’ve been able to add so much dignity to these places.”

Of particular note, Rudel added, is there are “no more abandoned Jewish cemeteries in Western PA.”

The retiring staffer credited the tireless work of JCBA’s board and its president, Harvey Wolsh.

“Few boards are as important to an organization as ours is,” Rudel said. “Most of our gifts are new gifts. Our staff is effective, but we’re rather small, so our board members have had a great impact in building our donor base.”

Schwimer (a former Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle staffer) said that beyond her and Rudel, the JCBA team includes Jennifer Primack as operations manager and Phyllis Weinkle and Lauren Friedman as part-time administrators.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has also served an important role, but much credit goes to the lay leaders who’ve demonstrated why the JCBA matters to the community, Rudel said.

JCBA was created in 1992 following the merger of the United Jewish Federation Cemetery Association and the Hebrew Burial Association of Pittsburgh, which was originally called “Chesed Shel Emeth of Pittsburg,” according to JCBA materials.

The surrounding cemeteries represent one of the “few permanent aspects of our Jewish landscape that has to be maintained in perpetuity,” Rudel said. “Our cemeteries cannot be downsized, merged, sold or abandoned. They are here for us to maintain and sustain.”

The community recognizes that halachic and moral mandate, Schwimer said.

“People understand that the one sure thing in life is that we are all going to die,” she said. “So when one thinks about the care of a cemetery and the care of our dead, the expectation is that both should be treated respectfully in perpetuity.”

To date, the community has built JCBA’s endowment such that it can sustain 12 cemeteries that have no funds, according to Rudel.

“That’s a success for the entire community,” he said.

As needs grow, Rudel said, the community can rest assured that Schwimer and incoming board President Skip Grinberg will build on past successes.

“Our future is even brighter with this top leadership,” he said. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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