Signs of Change

I met recently with leaders at Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue in the Mt. Lebanon section of Pittsburgh. This section of the so-called “South Hills” was the first major Jewish community outside of Pittsburgh’s famed Squirrel Hill. Since the Jewish community of Pittsburgh has experienced the same suburban sprawl as many Jewish communities and American cities in general, it is not surprising that Mt. Lebanon is now feeling a pinch.

The synagogue, which recently expanded its building, got permission to place an electronic sign on its property in hopes of attracting more passersby. The current sign, the only type previously allowed by the township, is quite small and difficult to see. As far as I know, this will be one of the first congregations in the country to have an electronic sign.

We spoke a great deal about JOI’s Public Space Judaism model and the desire to reach people through the new sign, particularly interfaith families in the community. We also talked about what message to place on the sign. I asked the congregation to consider what was special about its offerings and what it thought most speaks to people. One of the possibilities I suggested was placing prayers of healing on the board. It is indeed an important part of the culture of the congregation. What would you recommend?


  1. It sounds strange, but a motto or tag line can be very helpful. For example, the Pleasantville Community Synagogue in Westchester Countym NY uses, “Joyful Judaism.” Also, how about advertising fun activities at which all will feel comfortable, like Israeli folk dancing or film nights?

    Comment by Ron M. — July 10, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

  2. Ron,
    What you are suggesting doesn’t sound strange at all. In fact, we always encourage institutions to be mindful of their message when advertising. You are right on in thinking about the kinds of activities that imply “you are welcome and will feel comfortable,” as well as “ you do not have to know lots of information about Judaism to come” are the ones to highlight in marketing for outreach purposes. Fun activities are key to communicate the message that Judaism is fun! For more about being mindful of the messages we give of with our signs and advertising, check out What’s in a Word?


    Comment by Eva Stern — July 13, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

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