Friday evening, Jan. 20, was a momentous night in the City of Newburgh: Some 300 congregants of Temple Beth Jacob, from Sunday-School youths to great-grandparents, marched with Rabbi Larry Freedman out of the Gidney Avenue home the synagogue has used for 53 years, carefully carrying their seven Torahs, or holy scrolls, with them. One of the Torahs was especially historic: Rescued from the Holocaust, it was obtained by TBJ several decades ago.
In the cold night air, the group passed the scrolls from person to person. Led by Cantor Anna Zhar, the procession was accompanied by spirited singing and the playing of drums, brass, woodwind and stringed instruments. And carrying their Torahs, TBJ’s congregants bade farewell to their old house of worship and walked to 290 North St., just a block away.
TBJ, the oldest Jewish congregation in the city and one of the oldest in upstate New York, was founded in 1854 and had been housed in only three locations in all that time. The Gidney Avenue facility was built for them in 1958. Now TBJ, a Reform congregation, will be sharing 290 North St. with Agudas Israel, the Conservative congregation that serves the city and surrounding areas. The headquarters of the Jewish Community Center also plans to join both congregations at 290 North St., creating a single location for all of the area’s Jewish spiritual and social activities.
And so, in this unique moment, the TBJ congregants began their Sabbath worship service in one synagogue and ended it at another.
The marchers were warmly greeted at the door of their new home by Agudas Israel Rabbi Philip Weintraub; by many Agudas Israel members; by representatives of Jewish Family Services, the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County; and by Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy, among other dignitaries.
Congregation Agudas Israel and the Jewish Community Center sponsored a celebratory party for TBJ at 290 North St. as soon as TBJ’s worship service concluded.
The sharing of facilities by synagogues, thereby generating synergy as well as economies of scale, is happening more and more in liberal American Judaism, according to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Rabbi David Fine.
I spoke with Fine, senior consultant for congregational systems for the URJ, on Jan. 25, five days after the event.
“This is a time for great creativity for American Jewish congregations. We’re seeing new models of co-existence and collaboration,” he told me.
Fine came to Newburgh last year to help TBJ plan for the move and anticipate its implications. He describes his specialty as “mergers and alternatives to mergers.”
Of the TBJ move, he said, “I think it’s great.”
To view Michael Goldin’s video, click HERE. Further pictures and a slideshow can be seen HERE on the TBJ Facebook page.