While some congregations across the region are struggling to survive due to steep declines in membership and economic hardships, the only struggle Or L’Simcha has faced in recent months has been “the struggle to find more room for [its] programs,” said Rabbi Chuck Diamond, spiritual leader of one of Pittsburgh’s newest congregations.
And that struggle has been favorably resolved as Or L’Simcha has made a comfortable transition to its new digs, sharing space with Tree of Life Congregation at its building on the corner of Wilkins and Shady avenues in Squirrel Hill.
Or L’Simcha, founded by Diamond, is an unaffiliated, traditional and egalitarian congregation of over 175 families. Having outgrown the space it was renting from the National Council of Jewish Women on Murray Avenue, it combined its religious school with that of Conservative-affiliated Tree of Life in September, and began holding Shabbat services there several weeks ago.
The combining of the two congregations’ religious schools, renamed “TLC” (Torah Lishmah Community), “helped lay the foundation for the other things that are going on,” said Diamond.
The arrangement has been “splendid,” said Rabbi Stephen Listfield of Tree of Life, who noted that although the two congregations hold separate services in different parts of the building, they come together for kiddish after the services conclude.
“We sit down together and break bread,” said Listfield.
The arrangement appears to be a win-win situation for both congregations. While maintaining distinct identities, they are able to pool resources and members and join together to create stronger programming.
Teenagers from each synagogue now belong to one USY chapter. Joint sisterhood programs have been held already, as have joint children’s programming.
In an effort for members of the two congregations to get to know each other, two chavurahs have been created: one whose members are parents of religious school children, and one consisting of the lay leaders of each congregation.
Combined adult education programs are also in the works.
“We at the Tree are proud to put out a specific welcome mat to our friends at Or L’Simcha for our adult education programs,” said Listfield. “It’s a wonderful thing that we should share space and share dialogue of Torah traditions with two rabbis. That doubles all that is good about Torah study.”
“Things have worked out really well,” said Diamond, noting that the space-sharing arrangement has “brought a lot of energy into the building.”
“It made a lot of sense for us to share space,” Diamond continued. “Tree of Life is such a wonderful structure, and it was being underutilized.”
Although there are no plans for the two congregations to merge, the current arrangement seems to be working.
“We’re moving together, and we’ll see what the future holds for us,” said Diamond.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)