Building Bridges Between UFP and Beth Israel

As far back as 2004, when UFP first signed a lease arrangement with Beth Israel, people were imagining possibilities between our two communities. The intention was that sharing space created an invitation to get to know one another and swap stories about our religious traditions. Our relationship, it was imagined, could be enriching as much as economic. However, for most of our years together, we have not intentionally nourished that relationship.

Last year, we began a conversation about imagining how to make the building’s entry courtyard beautiful again. On May 12 this year we had a community conversation with broad participation from Beth Israel and UFP to discuss the value of the space and how it might serve both our congregations in re-kindling a relationship.

One of the community building activities born that day is a joint choir of Unitarians and Jews that performed at a Shabbat service in October. Tragically, the next week brought the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The choir was invited back for a second performance at the next service, a sombre occasion, but one that deepened the experience of being together and sharing in life’s ebb and flow. The same week, regarding the same tragic event, Larry Gillman, Beth Israel president, expressed deep gratitude for the moral support received from UFP at two memorial gatherings to recognize the lives lost, and to speak out against hate crimes and antisemitism.

There has never been a time in our fourteen year history when our two communities have been on closer terms.

In the context of the conversation between UFP and Beth Israel an idea finally has traction, and it’s all wrapped up in the failure of the stair lift, now merely a busted piece of scrap metal attached to the stair. The result of the failure is that the lower level is not accessible. Neither community can live in this house without a solution. A solution is going to be expensive.

How are we going to address the need for a solution within the context of our present tenant-landlord relationship? What does our membership need in order to lean in to the idea of making it happen? Who will pay and under what terms? What options are there to formalize a changed relationship between our two communities? The lift failure provides an opportunity and the impetus to move toward the relationship dreamed of fourteen years ago.

The UFP-Beth Israel Co-Visioning task force, supported by your Board, is compiling information on construction costs for a new elevator, funding opportunities from agencies, and drawing on the experience of others. In parallel they are exploring a range of options for sharing building management that can guide the formal relationship between our two communities.

It’s early yet. We don’t have a lot to go on and we have more questions than answers, but we need to have you in the conversation as the answers take shape. Please plan to attend our congregation’s semi-annual meeting on December 9th after the service and lunch. After the budget conversation we will make time to discuss this complex issue, to hold it up to the light, to ask a bunch of questions, and to see where it takes us.

— Guy Hanchet and Scott Donovan, on behalf of the UFP Board

P.S. Please see here the joint statement prepared by the UFP-Beth Israel Co-Visioning Task Force.