Earth Day dedication shines light on solar power at Beth Shalom

Elected officials joined community members for an Earth Day dedication four years in the making, as an April 22 event culminated with Congregation Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Seth Adelson flipping the switch on the congregation’s new solar panels.

Standing five stories beneath the 140 solar panels, Beth Shalom member Dr. Bruce Rollman recalled the events that led the congregation to reconsider its environmental footprint.

In 2017, after former President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto responded by stating the city nonetheless would “follow the guidelines of the Paris agreement for our people, our economy and future.”

Around that time, Beth Shalom needed to address a leaky roof over its early learning center, Rollman said.

He remembered sitting in a Beth Shalom board meeting and hearing about the congregation’s deficit, a $70,000 annual electricity bill and necessary building repairs. With those costs and Trump’s and Peduto’s remarks in mind, Rollman suggested repairing the roof and installing solar panels.

The board agreed and, with the aid of Beth Shalom staff, including Adelson, former executive director Rob Menes and interim executive director Ken Turkewitz, as well as congregation president Debby Firestone, Rollman reached out to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for help. Fitzgerald suggested they apply for a grant through the Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund.

Dr. Bruce Rollman, left, and Rich Feder helped Congregation Beth Shalom with its solar panel project. Photo by Adam Reinherz

After raising $102,000 from congregants, Beth Shalom received $125,000 from the CITF grant. The congregation spent another $14,000 from its operating budget to cover the nearly $240,000 cost of the panels and installation, Rollman said.

With the project having come to fruition, Fitzgerald credited elected officials, including state Sen. Jay Costa, and praised Beth Shalom as exemplifying the collaboration needed to address climate change.

“It couldn’t happen alone just with government,” he said.

Costa credited local politicians and Beth Shalom’s leadership.

“It’s projects like this that allow us to go to Harrisburg and make the case to be able to bring back resources to the CITF program,” he said.

Although federal officials drive environmental-related policies, Peduto said, it’s critical for the public to work with state, county and federal authorities. Local efforts, like those taken by Beth Shalom, demonstrate leadership.

“Thank you for giving us a tangible way of showing the rest of this region where the world is moving,” he said.

City Council member Erika Strassburger noted a connection between Beth Shalom’s installation of solar panels and Jewish teachings. Judaism often calls for a long view regarding policy making, she said. And just as a decision may impact and inspire the next 10 generations, so will the choice of environmental protection today create ripple effects for years to come.

City Council member Corey O’Connor praised Beth Shalom’ congregants for their unceasing dedication.

“About 20-plus years ago there was a major fire in here, and the community came together, pulled through and sustained this building. … With this great project that we’re doing now you’re going to sustain it for years and years to come,” he said.

Rollman, who along with the elected officials ventured to the rooftop for a post-dedication photo, echoed Strassburger and O’Connor’s comments. He embraced the idea of Beth Shalom shining a light on environmental sustainability.

“We just hope that it helps the neighborhood flip solar,” he said. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at