By LINDA M. LINONIS
Two Jewish congrega- tions will celebrate Purim together, echoing the story of courage and survival, by the steps they are taking toward a merger.
Merger committees from Congregation Rodef Sholom, 1119 Elm St., and Temple Beth Israel, 840 Highland Road, Sharon, Pa., are meeting and have set up sub-committees to work on various issues.
Recently, Rabbi Franklin W. Muller and Jodie Damioli, president, of Rodef Sholom, and Rabbi Daniel Roberts and Stanley H. Bard, president, of Temple Beth Israel, discussed the merger and joint events.
Rabbi Roberts said a Purim play, based on a parody of Dr. Seuss by Rabbi Lauren Werber, will be presented Friday at the Sharon temple.
Purim recounts the story of Esther, who had been made queen by Ahasuerus, King of Persia, and her cousin, Mordecai. The villian is Haman, an adviser to the king who hated Mordecai. The king left the fate of the Jews to Haman, who wanted to exterminate them. Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king, which was risky, because she hadn’t told him she was Jewish. But the king loved her, and when she told him about Haman’s plot, the king hanged Haman and his family on the gallows.
The reading of the Megillah, the story of Esther, is part of Purim. The word “Purim” means lots and refers to the lottery that Haman used to pick the date of extermination.
“The celebration continues joint events that began almost five years ago,” Rabbi Muller said. “These events are opportunities for everyone to get to know one another.”
The congregations have had summer services each year, two in Youngstown and two in the Sharon area. “We’re building a community,” Rabbi Muller said, noting the congregations have had other joint services and social events.
Forming those kinds of bonds was the priority before actual formal merger talks began. Rabbi Muller said he felt that groundwork has laid the foundation for “almost a model of a merger.”
Damioli said the first joint merger committee meeting took place. “It was positive and there was comraderie.” She added she was pleased that “everyone was on the same page.”
Bard added, “Since we have done so much together, we know each other. It wasn’t adversarial.”
Temple Beth Israel arranged for Rabbi Roberts, who is retired, to conduct services. In conversation, he and Bard talked about the future of the temple and how a merger might be the right course. Rabbi Roberts attended Rodef Sholom in his youth.
Bard said the Sharon congregation has dwindled and he dreaded the situation of an “empty building.” He was determined to retain “an active Jewish community in the Shenango Valley.” When Bard suggested a merger to the Sharon temple members, he said some responded with “what took you so long?”
The Purim play is a way to celebrate the holiday while offering an activity for both temples. “Purim is about Jewish survival. The merger is about survival for Mahoning and Shenango valleys [congregations],” Rabbi Muller said. “It’s a step for both into the next generation.”
Damioli said there are five sub-committees with 18 people addressing artifacts, legal issues, structure of the board, finances and the cemetery. Rabbi Roberts said the Sharon temple has an obligation to its cemetery, and that will be part of merger talks.
Jewish synagogues are independent entitites; both congregations are Reform. “We use the same prayer book,” Rabbi Muller said.
The Sharon temple has just under 100 families; Rodef Sholom has just under 300 families. Each congregation will vote after the sub-committees work out the details. “Change is difficult,” Bard admitted. But he added closing the doors at Sharon temple with no plan in place for members was unacceptable.
“New people, new blood and new ideas are welcome,” Damioli said. “It’s a blessing to us and a mitzvah to them. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
“With a larger congregation, there is more activity. There’s more socializing and more opportunities for kids,” Bard added.
Rabbi Roberts said the merger “will serve the people.”
Damioli said the congregations realize there will be a “transition” as the merger moves forward. Keeping members informed will make it easier, she said.