Rodef Shalom gets government grant to support virtual tour of its artifacts
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Rodef Shalom gets government grant to support virtual tour of its artifacts

The virtual tour will feature the synagogue's main sanctuary, a circa-1907 Kimball organ, and the 100,000-square-foot building’s stunning stained-glass window panels.

View of Rodef Shalom Congregation from Morewood Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Rodef Shalom Congregation)
View of Rodef Shalom Congregation from Morewood Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Rodef Shalom Congregation)

Rodef Shalom Congregation received a $16,000 grant to build a virtual tour of its storied Fifth Avenue site and the numerous collections housed within the synagogue.

The grant was made through PA Humanities, a state humanities council that is an independent nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The organization announced $1.4 million in recovery funds for 92 Pennsylvania-based organizations under the umbrella PA SHARP (Pennsylvania, Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan).

Leaders at Rodef Shalom were encouraged to seek the PA SHARP grant after receiving a $10,000 PA Humanities grant for personal protective equipment to combat COVID-19 in 2020, according to Mayda Roth, the congregation’s director of development. Roth said this year’s grant will focus on the congregation’s efforts to celebrate its history.

“We certainly know the value of [history] at Rodef Shalom,” Roth told the Chronicle. “We have art and artifacts in our building that, to quote the MasterCard commercial, are priceless.”

This year’s grant will help “create a virtual tour of our building, inside and out,” she added. “And we’ll feature our magnificent main sanctuary.”

The sanctuary — designed by Henry Hornbostel, an American architect who designed more than 225 buildings, bridges, and monuments across the U.S. — is not the only star of the virtual show, though.

As examples, Roth pointed to the needlepoint work of Barbara Trellis; a circa-1907 Kimball organ “in need of a benefactor to support its renovation”; and the 100,000-square-foot building’s stunning stained-glass window panels by Herman Schladermundt, a student of Louis Tiffany.

The removal and preservation of the stained-glass panels are made possible through support from the Jack Buncher Foundation, the Samuel Levine Endowments, in loving memory of Howard Rom by his family and through the generosity of more than 150 congregants, Roth said.

“The humanities are on the ground, putting people first, by making spaces for new voices, supporting meaningful learning experiences and fostering healing and resiliency in communities of all sizes,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of PA Humanities. “PA SHARP further strengthens this essential work through network building, financial support and reimagining the possibilities of the humanities across the state.”

PA Humanities reviewed 337 applications — 41% of which were new applicants. Ninety-two recipients were selected, representing museums, historical societies, libraries and other vital cultural institutions in 30 counties across Pennsylvania. They were carefully selected with an emphasis on equity and geographic diversity, PA Humanities said in a prepared statement.

Applicants to PA SHARP reported losses totaling $176 million, revealing the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the cultural sector. Funds from PA SHARP will help address that challenge by supporting engaging programming, capacity building and general operations, according to PA Humanities.

PA SHARP is an expansion of PA Humanities’ previous recovery work, beginning when the pandemic first affected business operations. In 2020, PA Humanities rapidly responded by reallocating its program funding for emergency support through Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers and then later distributed an additional $780,500 through PHC CARES, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.

Funding for PA SHARP comes from PA Humanities’ federal partner, the NEH, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Recognizing the financial realities of the pandemic and the vital importance of the humanities to economic and civic life, the legislation allocated to the NEH funds to “prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the coronavirus.”

Rodef Shalom also recently received government funding to support multiple roof replacements and repairs, primarily over its social hall. The project will be financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Finance Authority and the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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