A Brief History of Pittsburgh’s Jews

Last fall, the massacre of Jews by an anti-immigration fanatic at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh brought brief national attention to the city’s Jewish community. Barbara Burstin, a historian of Pittsburgh Jewry, provides an overview of its development, with special attention to the synagogue itself and the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where it is located:

Beginning around 1910, [more recently arrived] East European Jews began to join their more established German Jewish brethren in the [city’s] nicer East End neighborhoods of Oakland, East Liberty, Bloomfield, and even Squirrel Hill, the most prestigious of them all, with its elegant houses and tree-lined streets. . . . Squirrel Hill soon became the center of Pittsburgh Jewish life, though Tree of Life would not move from its building in the more modest Oakland neighborhood to its present location in Squirrel Hill until after World War II. . . .

In 1948, Tree of Life broke ground for its current building in Squirrel Hill, but with the founding of the state of Israel, its rabbi, Herman Hailperin, called for a stop to the fundraising so the congregation could focus on helping Jews in Israel. The cornerstone of the building, which opened four years later, was hewn from Jerusalem limestone. These were boom years for Tree of Life. In 1959, the synagogue broke ground again to build a new, 1,400-seat sanctuary. A local artist, Nicholas Parrendo, was commissioned to create the massive modernist stained-glass windows that flank its bimah and pews, depicting creation, the acceptance of the Torah, and the Jewish ethos. . . .

Unlike Jews of other cities that are, in one way or another, comparable (say, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Cleveland), Pittsburgh’s Jews never moved en masse to the suburbs, and the fact that the community remains centered in Squirrel Hill may have helped with their complete integration into the city’s life.

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More about: American Jewish History, History & Ideas, Synagogues


Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank