Brief History of Congregation Dor Hadash
Congregation Dor Hadash was founded in 1963 when about 30 people formed a prayer and study group. Their motivation was for “a new kind of group” (unaffiliated with any branch of Judaism) that would meet their religious and cultural interests. They took the name Dor Hadash, or “new generation.” These founding members were mostly from other cities who came to Pittsburgh for work and social reasons, since few had relatives in the city. They were determined to be a “do-it-yourself” congregation with members fulfilling every function. By 1966, there were about 60 families.
After the first few years, the congregation adopted the Reconstructionist prayer book which came closest to their beliefs. That exposure to Reconstructionism and Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s writing, with its focus on Judaism as an evolving religious civilization rather than merely a religion, and its egalitarian principles, led to joining the Reconstructionist movement in 1969. Early organization was fairly informal with elected officers conducting town-hall type meetings to make decisions.
By the late 1980s, several changes occured that strengthened Dor Hadash. These were creation of an elected board, hiring a committed and competent cantor, and formation of a religious school.
Board structure provided more systematic leadership to handle ritual, administration, finances, adult education, social action, life events, membership and social events. Committees were formed to help carry out designated activities, with focus on having broad member participation which the founders sought. That emphasis persists to this day. A congregation manager serves the communication and administrative needs of the board.
Early cantors were usually college students with knowledge of ritual and some ability to sing. In 1987, Cheryl Klein, herself the child of founders of the congregation, became the Dor Hadash lay-cantor. The congregation recently honored Cheryl for her devoted leadership for over 25 years. She remains a vital force in conducting services, guiding adults and youngsters in their roles as service leaders, Torah readers, and other kinds of participation. Although services are now somewhat more traditional than before, they follow a pattern of Shabbat services held most Friday nights and most Saturday mornings, including a vibrant Torah study group.
Also in the late 1980s, despite some old timers’ resistance, parents of young children lobbied for a Reconstructionist education that led to formation of the Dor Hadash Religious School with hired teachers and a principal. Classes meet in members’ homes. Teachers and mentors work with youngsters to prepare them for b’nai mitzvah.
Early festivities included an adult only Purim Party, family Chanukah parties, Tu B’Shvat seders, family picnics, and anniversary parties, as well as supper-services. The congregation recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with close to 200 individuals attending a joyous simcha that included several three-generation families. Currently, there are about 150 dues-paying households including singles and families.
Although there were periodic discussions about hiring a rabbi and buying a building, the membership has generally felt that we can function better when members participate in every aspect of synagogue life, and that we should remain renters to avoid the costs and hassle of building ownership.
During the early years, all events were held at the Hebrew Institute on Forbes and Denniston Avenues. Subsequent venues included Rodef Shalom Congregation, Community Day School, the Labor Zionist building and the Jewish Community Center. At times, Dor Hadash rented space in several facilities because no one of them could accommodate all activities. Since 2009, the congregation’s home has been at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha building in Squirrel Hill, the most comprehensive and comfortable location in our history.