I had an appointment at Montefiore Hospital this past week. It’s been a while since I’ve walked the hallways there. I entered through the Kaufmann Building on Fifth Avenue, went up the elevator, and crossed the bridge connecting the Kauffman Building to the hospital. Just after entering the Montefiore building, I was struck by the walls with lists of names of donors who contributed to build and sustain our Jewish hospital. I saw the Katz name and the Rogal name on different pieces of the building (families I have known). I know there were many more names to be seen, but I had to get to my appointment on time.
This experience got me thinking and reflecting. Jewish hospitals were built primarily to provide Jewish doctors with a place to practice at a time when most hospitals wouldn’t hire them. They served a really important purpose and need. In the 1990’s, for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that Jewish doctors were by then practicing everywhere, our Pittsburgh Jewish community made the decision to sell the hospital to UPMC. It was a difficult choice to make on various levels, but one of the most emotional was that there were still members of the Jewish community working at Montefiore; the sale would mean the end of a Jewishly run institution. Yet, despite what our community “lost” with the sale, with its consummation, we gained a powerful and influential ally in the pursuit of a strong Jewish community – the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. Ever since, JHF has been supporting our Jewish community and other health related needs in the broader community. Because of their grant making and advocacy, lots of good has happened.
Today, I don’t think many, or perhaps any of us would question why there is no “Jewish” hospital in Pittsburgh. The same is the case in nearly every other Jewish community across the country. The reality is that as needs change and evolve, Jewish communities must make the often difficult decisions to look to their future while always remembering and honoring their past (which is why those Jewish names are still in place in Montefiore). It is important for us as a community to balance these two elements not only strategically but with compassion and understanding. As we enter the month of Elul today, a month in which we reflect upon our past deeds and actions before the observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, let us also start to evaluate what the needs of our community truly are and how we can best serve our members. It is undoubtedly difficult emotionally to give up what we have built and supported for decades, but if we are to thrive as a Pittsburgh Jewish community into the future, we must continue to question what we do, how we do it, and who we are helping. Still, we must do so respectfully and with recognition of the important contributions and efforts of our predecessors. I am confident in the way in which our present community leaders are approaching these types of issues and I know that their work will only serve to strengthen our community and ready us for what is to come.