Shoring up our ‘infrastructure’

Shoring up our ‘infrastructure’

Jewish institutions necessary to support our best Jewish lives are being neglected

Laptop, Computer, Desktop PC, Human Hand, Office / soft focus picture / Vintage concept
Laptop, Computer, Desktop PC, Human Hand, Office / soft focus picture / Vintage concept

The harrowing collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge last week came just hours before President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh to talk about the importance of shoring up our country’s infrastructure. To prove his point, the bridge came tumbling down, as if it had been a thespian waiting in the wings for her cue to take center stage and recite a critical monologue.

We are so grateful that injuries from the wreckage were relatively minimal, and that there were no fatalities. As local politicians noted last week, had the bridge collapsed just one hour later — during rush hour — the harm certainly would have been much greater.

Still, the consequences of neglecting the support of infrastructure couldn’t have been more striking. We hope our politicians, federal, state and city, are paying attention. Our lives depend on it.

In the wake of the Fern Hollow Bridge catastrophe, we see an apt metaphor to our Jewish communal structure. Just as safe and up-to-date bridges, roads, power supplies and buildings are essential to our security, so are stable and innovating Jewish institutions necessary to support our best Jewish lives. We fear that those institutions on which we depend to keep us Jewishly connected, spiritually inspired, and educated and informed, are being neglected.

We acknowledge there may be several factors that led to this neglect and lack of support, including organizations not responding to the changing trends and desires of younger Jews. Many organizations are aware of those trends, and would be happy to adapt and meet them, but are hobbled by the lack of funds to do so.

The pandemic has made the situation worse, but even prior to COVID, affiliation at area congregations was plummeting. Just 19% of households were dues-paying members of local brick-and-mortar synagogues, according to the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study. Jewish Community Centers around the country, historically hubs for Jews to assemble for a variety of activities and events, also have been suffering from a significant downturn in membership and revenue.

Overall enrollment at our after-school Judaics programs has eroded, and some programs have closed entirely. Our day schools continually struggle to amass optimal funding; more funds to our schools would mean better resources and potentially more scholarships to those for whom paying tuition is a challenge.

And while the Chronicle’s recent fundraising campaign raised more than three times our goal — and we are so grateful for that support — the financial future of this newspaper still remains insecure.

We know that the Jewish community is not as financially invested in its institutions as it once was. And that financial support is crucial to ensure that our organizations not only survive, but thrive. There is so much our Jewish institutions could offer if they had adequate funding.

No, Jewish Pittsburgh is not crumbling. But is it on solid ground?

How many times did we cross the Fern Hollow Bridge in recent years, by car or bike or foot, and not stop to notice its tenuous condition? If we had been paying attention, would we have seen that it needed repair?

Let us not wait for a “bridge” connecting our communal infrastructure to collapse to appreciate its value. Jewish Pittsburgh is special for so many reasons. It’s time take notice and ensure our Jewish institutions are sound, for us, and for the generations to come.

Our Jewish lives depend on it. PJC

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