By LINDA M. LINONIS
The merger of Temple Beth Israel, Sharon, Pa., and Congregation Rodef Sholom “means the continuance of Jewish life” in the Shenango Valley but at a new place in the Mahoning Valley.
The merger of the two synagogues officially took place in July. At a gathering Friday at the synagogue at 1119 Elm St., members of Temple Beth Israel were officially welcomed, the merger celebrated and co-presidents Inez Heal and Jeff Simon installed. The event also marked Rabbi Franklin W. Muller’s 30th anniversary in the rabbinate and 18th year at Congregation Rodef Sholom. Participants were Rabbi Daniel Roberts, retired, who had served Temple Beth Israel, and Rabbi Sam Stall, who grew up in Sharon.
The ritual, orchestrated by Rabbi Muller, featured the passing of Torahs from Sharon in one direction while Torahs from Youngstown went in the other direction. The idea was that members would touch the Torahs from both, a symbol of unity and sharing, and the Torahs will cross over each other.
Stanley H. Bard, outgoing president of Temple Beth Israel, said artifacts, plaques, artwork and furniture also have been brought over to Youngstown. “I’m glad to see these things being used,” he said.
Memorial plaques listing names of deceased members also have been installed. He said having familiar items from Sharon in Youngstown will help in the transition. “Seeing the artifacts here will help people feel at home,” Bard said.
It’s hard to see the building [Temple Beth Israel] for sale,” Bard said. But, he noted, the congregation of just under 100 families knew something had to be done. Bard had said he dreaded the situation of an “empty building” and was determined to retain “an active Jewish community in the Shenango Valley.”
With the merger official, he has seen that come to fruition. Because Jewish synagogues are independent entities, it only involved approval by the two sides. Both are Reform congregations.
Now that Sharon has merged with Youngstown, which has just under 300 families, Bard said he already is “seeing people have a better experience at services.”
Torahs from Temple Beth Israel being displayed, used and appreciated by a new group of people also makes for glad feelings, Bard said.
Five committees working on the merger addressed artifacts, legal issues, structure of the board, finances and the cemeteries. Rabbi Muller said one factor that made the merger interesting and different from others is that it crossed state lines of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The board structure also changed and the executive board expanded. Heal and Simon head the board that also includes Arthur Greenbaum, treasurer; Alden Chevlen, secretary; Jodie Damioli, past president; Denise Altman, Sally Blau, Bruce Epstein, Marlene Epstein, Harvey Kayne, Fred Knox, Scott Lehman, Hilari Lipkin, Alan Nathan, Tod Newman, Jody Nudell, Audrey Schwebel, Evelyn Solomon, Adam Sperling, Jan Strasfeld and Phil Zauderer.
Both congregations have cemeteries, and the committee found their guidelines were remarkably similar. Temple Beth Israel’s cemetery is off of Mercer Avenue in Hermitage, Pa., with Orthodox and Reform sides and Rodef Sholom’s is on Belmont in Tod Cemetery.
Once the formalities were ironed out, Bard said he was “relieved” and had “mixed emotions.” He said the Sharon synagogue had the funds to continue. “But a vibrant Jewish life was not in that building,” he said.
Heal said it is encouraging to see more people at services. “Eventually, we would have had the same problem [as Sharon] ... we have the funds but not the people,” she said. “The merger means that we go forward ... it’s a positive step.”
“The merger has created a synergy, whereby the merged congregation is much more active, engaged and vibrant ...,” Simon said. “There has been an infusion of new faces and fresh ideas at Rodef.”
Simon added that he foresees “lifelong bonds of friendship” being formed among members.
The co-president added that the merger has produced a “renewed sense of spirituality and vibrancy.”
Congregation Rodef Sholom (pursuers of peace) was founded May 12, 1867. In 1915, the building on Elm was dedicated. Temple Beth Israel’s congregation formed in the 1880s and built its temple in 1950.
A mezuzah, a parchment scroll from Sharon, has been installed at Rodef Sholom. In Sharon, it was a tradition to touch and kiss the scroll. The scripture from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reads, in part, “ you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, all your being and all your resources. These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them carefully to your children. ... and write them on the door frames of your house and on your gates.”
The merged congregations, now one, will share the tradition and belief.