Neither hill nor bridge nor heat nor lack of phone could prevent Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum from trekking from Mt. Lebanon to Squirrel Hill so he could celebrate two Shabbat simchas, transpiring on the same day but more than 8 miles apart.
“There is a Yiddish saying that you can’t dance at two weddings,” said Rosenblum, director of Chabad of the South Hills. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Rosenblum faced a dilemma that many people would have found unsurmountable. On Saturday, June 22, he wanted to be with his South Hills congregation for morning services because the son of close friends, and founding members, was being called to the Torah for an aliya the day before his wedding at a traditional aufruf. The rabbi needed to be there — especially because he was unable to attend the wedding the following evening, when he would be on his way to New York City for his first grandson’s bris.
But Rosenblum also needed to be in Squirrel Hill. His extended family was in town, as was the extended family of his wife, Batya — a rare occurrence. Rosenblum’s niece had just married Batya’s cousin earlier in the week, and everyone was together to continue the celebration on Shabbat.
“Batya was the matchmaker for this couple, so we had a deep connection to the wedding in addition to just our family connection,” Rosenblum said.
So, although he couldn’t be in both places at once, the rabbi set out to at least be at both places on the same day.
The problem was getting to Squirrel Hill from Mt. Lebanon. Because of the Shabbat prohibitions against operating or riding in a motor vehicle, his only means of transportation was by foot. Although he knew a couple people who had done the walk previously, “they were younger,” noted Rosenblum, 48.
The walking directions he found on Google and on MapQuest turned out to be complicated. Although driving from Mt. Lebanon to Squirrel Hill is pretty straightforward — either through the Fort Pitt or Liberty tunnel, then onto the Parkway — walking the route is a different matter entirely.
“It required many quick turns, and walking down stairs,” Rosenblum explained. He realized he needed to bring along directions, which also posed a problem: he could not carry them on Shabbat.
Rosenblum came up with a creative solution. Prior to Shabbat, he wrote out the directions with a permanent marker on his undershirt, and then wore that undershirt for reference on his journey.
At about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, after the last l’chaim to the bride and groom had been said at Chabad of the South Hills — and after drinking lots of water — the rabbi set out for Squirrel Hill, wearing black pants, a white shirt, a baseball cap, and a vital undergarment. Comfy black shoes completed the look.
Rosenblum memorized the first several steps of the directions, then used his undershirt for guidance.
“I wrote the directions in a way so they were facing me,” he said. “It was very easy.”
The route took him up Banksville Road, where Chabad of the South Hills is located, to Crane Avenue, to Saw Mill Run, then to Warrington Avenue, followed by several small side streets, to Carson Street. Then, over the Hot Metal Bridge, to the bike path, through a parking lot, and onto Greenfield Avenue, and over the Greenfield Bridge. From there, it was a familiar hike to Pocusett Street, then on to Phillips Avenue, near Wightman Street, where his family awaited him.
The journey took about three hours, and he arrived none the worse for wear.
“It was a very beautiful day, and for a lot of the walk, the weather was pleasant,” he said. The high that day was 75 degrees.
The hardest challenge was going up and down some pretty steep hills. Other than that, he said, the walk was “extremely manageable. There was no point in the walk when I felt that I wouldn’t make it. It was more doable that I anticipated.”
Because he could not bring water along for the hike, the rabbi was pretty thirsty when he arrived in Squirrel Hill. “But it was never unbearable at all.”
While Rosenblum would not repeat the jaunt as a “joy walk,” he said, he would consider doing it again “for a serious reason.”
“If I have to do it again, I won’t need the undershirt. The experience is etched into my mind.” pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at