Neighbors Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation (TOL*OLS) and Chatham University are partnering on a series of lifelong learning events to be held at the congregation’s building on the corner of Wilkins and Shady avenues in Squirrel Hill.
The 15 scheduled events, running until May 17, include lectures, musical performances and interactive activities, all in the hope to “bring in a lot of people from the wider public to get a wide range of experiences,” said David Finegold, Chatham’s president.
The offerings range from a film screening and discussion of “Rosemary’s Baby” and its status as a Jewish horror film to a sourdough bread-making workshop. Other experiential sessions include memoir writing and watercolor techniques.
Although not all of the events are free, most are. Additionally, the adult educational offerings at TOL*OLS may be a closer option for those living in Squirrel Hill than similar courses and opportunities currently offered in the Oakland area, added Finegold.
For Michael Eisenberg, TOL*OLS’ president, the partnership with Chatham represents “the final piece to get increased utilization of the building.”
While synagogue memberships have declined, forcing multiple congregations throughout western Pennsylvania to shut their doors, Eisenberg has looked to other methods to preserve the congregation’s space. Specifically, through strategic partnerships with area worship groups and other organizations, TOL*OLS has developed a “metropolitan model” in which the building has become a bit of a “community center,” he said.
Apart from the Conservative congregation, the site also houses Dor Hadash, which is Reconstructionist, and New Light Congregation, also Conservative. The bevy of Jewish practices allow for three simultaneous Shabbat services to occur each week. This is in addition to the regular weekday usage from NA’AMAT, Weight Watchers and AARP, said Eisenberg.
Prior to creating these partnerships, the building would be used for morning minyan and then remain dormant throughout the day, he said. “Now it’s being used for a whole lot more.”
TOL*OLS owes its success to respectful dealings between the various parties, said Eisenberg.
Additionally, the congregation has been able to create a cohort that not only tacitly acknowledges its tenants but cooperates and supports the other’s programming.
As an example, Eisenberg pointed to last week’s commemoration of Purim, for which TOL*OLS and New Light held a joint celebratory meal and Purim shpiel.
Although Chatham is a secular institution, Eisenberg believes that its presence will benefit those in the Jewish space.
“Our new rabbi is a JTS cantor and he knows sound and acoustics,” said Eisenberg. “He said this is a great place to have musical events.”
The first Chatham event, a concert slated for March 8 at 7:30 p.m. will feature the all-female Kassia Ensemble, which challenges classical music’s entrenched gender bias.
Three days later, on March 11 at 3 p.m., a concert featuring Ruud Scholars Kaitlyn Salmon, Justine Barry, Francesca Fello and Elizabeth Romano, will include works by Mozart, Paisiello, Faure, Chaminade, Grieg, Copland and Bernstein.
“The main thing that our leadership wanted to know is how does a university presence work when juxtaposed with a spiritual organization,” said Eisenberg, “and that’s what we’re seeing here.”
Those interested in learning more about the Tree of Life and Chatham University partnership can visit chatham.edu/treeoflife. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.