Founded in Pittsburgh in 1946 as Young Peoples Synagogue, YPS was a pioneer havurah, or religious fellowship. Committed to a dignified and spiritually moving, member-led, traditional religious service, the members of YPS have sustained our minyan for over sixty years. YPS has a special place in Jewish religious life in Pittsburgh and the United States. Meeting every week for Shabbat and festival services, we’re a “do-it-yourself” shul: no rabbi, no secretary, no office, no paid professionals at all, which means we teach newcomers who want to extend their participation in the services. Our commitment to the minyan has fostered a strong sense of family among our members. Everything we do, from davening to setting up kiddush and the annual picnic, we do ourselves.
The founders of YPS were Zionists, which explains our Hebrew name Bohnai Yisrael (Builders of Israel). The focus on Israel continues to be important to our Jewish identity. Scholarships for study in Israel are offered annually to children of the congregation, and YPS members play active roles in the region’s Israel-oriented organizations. Numerous members and their children have made aliyah, the most recent of whom was eighty-six-year-old Frances Greenberg.
The YPS model has been an influential one. Many children of members have taken leadership roles in other synagogues outside Pittsburgh, sometimes specifically based on YPS. When we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary in 1996, these second-generation congregants offered moving accounts on how formative the experience of growing up in YPS was for them. Not only did they master important synagogue skills, but the sense of family and community within the congregation gave them a strong Jewish identity.
A word about us as members: we come from a dozen countries and twice that many states, but we have deep roots in Pittsburgh as well. The great-great-grandfather of one member reached the U.S. before the Civil War. Our most frequent Torah reader works for the Pittsburgh police; other readers are a former University of Pittsburgh dean, an architect, a professor of civil engineering, a pathologist, a political scientist, an optometrist, a social worker, a professor of religious studies, an accountant, and a manufacturer of high-tech precision instruments. We’re a diverse crew, which is not a coincidence: we believe that holding fast to our religious commitment goes hand-in-hand with being productive in our wider communities.
In 1996 YPS moved in with B’nai Zion congregation in their Edwardian mansion at 6404 Forbes Avenue, corner of Denniston, in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill. You can spot us by the sign outside. Inside, we have a comfortable, informal setting for the 70 or 80 members who attend Shabbat and holiday services, with two ramps making the shul and social hall accessible to all.
We meet every Friday evening for mincha and ma’ariv (6:30 p.m. April through October, otherwise at sunset); Shabbat services on Saturday morning begin at 9:30 and end with one of us giving a talk, and kiddush. Mincha/ma’ariv Saturday afternoons wraps up Shabbat with a member-led class in chumash and Rashi, then havdalah. Outside of services we also get together for a picnic, lectures, and occasional bike rides.
And why bother with all this work? The answer remains what it always was: self-improvement and spiritual enrichment. We sing aloud the books of Esther and of Ruth, the urgent message of social justice in Isaiah, the thrilling Song of Songs, and the always-trendy Kohelleth (”to everything there is a season”). No matter how often we say them, we never lose our wonder at our ancient texts. In what used to be someone’s house we reclaim our prophets and our roots every Saturday so we always know where we are, not just in Pittsburgh but in the cosmos. We invite you to daven with us as often as you can.
Young Peoples Synagogue
P.O. Box 8141
Pittsburgh PA 15217