Consolidation of 3 local synagogues creates unity, strength
YOUNGSTOWN –Three local synagogues have merged into one, marking an historic event for the Mahoning Valley’s Jewish community.
Rodef Sholom in Youngstown, Ohev Tzedek in Boardman and Beth Israel Temple in Sharon, Pa., have come together to form Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom.
A special procession took place earlier this month to bring the Torahs from each synagogue to their new home at Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom on Elm Street.
The congregation met at nearby Wick Park and marched, carrying the Torah scrolls to the synagogue’s sanctuary. The scrolls are the first five books of the Bible from Genesis to Deuteronomy.
Sandy Kessler, past president of Ohev Tzedek in Boardman, said the Torah scrolls were carried by past presidents of Ohev Tzedek.
The final service at Ohev Tzedek was March 5.
“This is an amazing celebration to welcome the most sacred of all our objects, the Torahs,” Ohev Beth Sholom’s interim Rabbi Paula Winnig said.
During the celebration, people took turns carrying the eight Torahs around the sanctuary while dancing.
Winnig said the new congregation also represents other congregations that have come together over the years.
“There are people who consider consolidation a sign of sadness because it means the Jewish population is dwindling, which is true. The Jews of the Mahoning Valley have dwindled in numbers over the years. What has not changed for the Jews of the Mahoning Valley is their dedication to keeping Judaism alive for many generations to come,” Winnig said.
Winnig said people understood that whatever historical differences existed among the congregations, there is much more to gain by being unified.
“Now that we are a unified congregation, we will be stronger and able to work harder to build a future for this community,” she said.
She said she hopes for a congregation of love, justice and peace.
Rabbi Courtney Berman, who begins July 1, said: “What a milestone this day is for us. We welcome all of you to the unified congregation of Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom’s new sanctuary. This holy space is being transformed as we mark a joyous new beginning for the Jewish community of Youngstown. This is a place where we will support one another and celebrate joyously together. This is the place where we will build our Jewish future.”
Berman said she is very optimstic of the congregations coming together and the time everyone will spend together.
The Torah scrolls were placed inside an ark, or an ornate cabinet.
“May the scrolls be a source of pride and meaning and connection for us all,” Berman said.
Randall and Bethany Goldberg and their two children of Boardman, who had attended Congregation Rodef Sholom, said they also have been to Ohev Tzedek over the years and are familiar with many members of the congregation.
“By combining, it will provide us with different experiences that people have had historically. We are combining traditions from the different synagogues. It is a way we can all move forward,” Bethany said.
Mark and Kim Zeidenstein of Boardman, who attended Ohev Tzedek, said they originally started at Congregation Rodef Sholom years ago and then went to Ohev Tzedek.
“We moved here to Youngstown from Cincinnati. Our rabbi in Cincinnati knew a rabbi up here so we came here initially and then Ohev Tzedek. To us, it is fine being in one temple. It’s just going to be a little bit different with the driving time. We want to give this a chance,” Mark said.
Nancy Burnett, co-president of Ohev Beth Sholom, said the three temples have come together with the new name a combination of all three.
“We have come together in unison with many commonalities. This is our Jewish community in unison. We are a strong community in our faith. Coming together like this shows that unity. When I looked around I saw people from all three temples interspersed, and that was a beautiful sight,” Burnett said.
A RARE DAY
Mark Huberman, co-president of Ohev Beth Sholom, said the events marked a rare special day with the carrying of the Torah.
“We brought over eight of them from Ohev Tzedek, which is a very special moment. They are in their new home in this historic sanctuary,” he said.
He said what the synagogues experienced also is happening in many congregations of different denominatons.
“Congregations are shrinking and some go out of business, which is a very sad moment. We were a viable congregation and now by coming together we became more viable and strengthen the Jewish community,” Huberman said.
He said the congregation now is at more than 320 members, with 100 coming from the Sharon location and 50 from the Boardman location.
He said the temple is in the heart of Youngstown near Stambaugh Auditorium.
“We want this building to continue to be a jewel on the North Side of Youngstown,” he said.
Huberman said there will be a new set of bylaws , a new board of directors and a new rabbi. The congregations voted nearly 100 percent for the merger and the new rabbi, he added.
Sarah Wilschek, executive director Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom, agreed that the transferring of the Torah was a historic day.
She said on Nov. 1, 2021, two congregations — Ohev Tzedek and Congregation Rodef Sholom — came together and seven years ago the temple in Sharon combined with Rodef Sholom, creating the new Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom.
Congregation Rodef Sholom was founded in 1867, and Ohev Tzedek in 1922.
Wilschek said the Glenwood Avenue building was sold to another church called the Rush Church in Canfield.
She said many are pleased it will remain a house of worship.
“For many of us this is a big deal. We are creating one strong unified congregation. Our new rabbi is coming in with new ideas. The congregation is looking forward to our future and what is best for the families,” Wilschek said.
She said the Torahs are living scrolls used all the time.
“This was a lot of synagogues, a lot of history, about five historic synagogues coming together,” she said.
All future services for the newly formed Ohev Beth Sholom will take place at its Elm Street temple across from Wick Park.
She said the first Bar Mitzvah for the combined congregation will be Saturday. A Bar Mitzvah celebrates when a child turns 13 and is considered to be an adult.