Synagogue's Dwindling Congregation

December 27, 2000

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On December 27, 2000, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on "a tiny, resilient Jewish community in Greene and Washington counties" serviced by the Beth Israel Synagogue. If the size of the congregation does not grow, said its vice president, "the decision has to be made as to whether it's viable to continue." Both counties have tiny Jewish populations, and, with southern Allegheny county, contribute "fewer than 150 members" to the congregation. The synagogue is able to survive on bequests from late members. Particularly at Christmas, Jews in the area are reminded they are a minority. In place of Christmas, they observe the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, which "commemorates the rededication of the temple that followed an ancient Jewish victory over the Syrians. The Jewish people had enough oil to light the temple menorah for one day, but the fuel somehow lasted for eight." Because Beth Israel is the only synagogue in the area, it must accomodate a wide range of beliefs. Therefore, "interfaith families may find a warmer welcome at Beth Israel than at some larger synagogues...Unlike many Jewish cemeteries, which make no provision for the burial of non-Jewish people, Beth Israel's cemetery...has a special section for interfaith couples." The congregation has shrunk in the past generation because "children of baby boomers have left the area for jobs" and "people do not seem to be as concerned with spiritual matters...Nowadays, the synagogue sometimes lacks a minyan, the 10 adults required for a full service."