It was an evening that started with the warmth of a sentiment.
Shortly after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 10, Beth El Bingo co-chair Debbie Goldberg stood at the front of a community room full of regulars and talked about the war unfolding in Israel.
“It’s been a very difficult week for the Jewish community,” she said.
Public support meant as much in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas terrorists as it did when an antisemitic gunman killed 11 worshippers in the Tree of Life building five years earlier, Goldberg told them.
The response was quick.
One person handed co-chair Cheryl Kirshner a $50 check she made out to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Israel Relief Fund.
“Get it to Israel on my behalf,” they told her.
Then, the two co-chairs floated the idea of donating tips — cash from a bingo winner’s payout, which traditionally goes back to Beth El Congregation of the South Hill — to the relief fund, Kirshner said.
“It really snowballed from there,” Kirshner said.
At the end of each game, the two women would collect $5 in cash, or $10.
“My heart breaks for Israel,” one woman told the two co-chairs as she shared a tip.
One person won a $1,000 jackpot and donated $100.
By the end of the night, 81 bingo players had donated $620 to the cause, Kirshner said. And not a single one of the players was Jewish.
“That’s what made it remarkable,” Kirshner told the Chronicle. “These were non-Jewish friends and supporters who wanted to help.”
Beth El Bingo is no small affair. The South Hills congregation’s largest fundraiser for the past 40 years, bingo raised some $120,000 for the congregation last year, Goldberg said.
People come Tuesdays from as far as Ohio to take part, Goldberg said. Some show up two hours before the doors even open.
And, for many of the players, this is the only connection they have to the region’s Jewish community or those affected by the conflict in Israel, Goldberg said.
Pittsburgh’s Federation has raised more than $5 million to date for its Israel Relief Fund, said Adam Hertzman, the organization’s associate vice president of marketing.
“We have been encouraged by the outpouring of support from people all around Pittsburgh, including elected officials, interfaith partners and even countless people with no connection to the Jewish community,” Hertzman said.
Beth El’s $620 donation wasn’t the Federation’s largest, Hertzman said, but it did resonate loudly.
“This wonderful gesture shows just a small part of the incredible solidarity against terrorism and support for people suffering from terror attacks in Israel,” he said. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.