2015-10-14 / Home

Temple Har Zion in Mt. Holly marking 80 years at Oct. 24 event

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD
Voice staff


The congregation celebrates High Holidays with Rabbi Raymond Leiman sometime between 1948-58. The congregation celebrates High Holidays with Rabbi Raymond Leiman sometime between 1948-58. In 1934, with the nation in the grips of the Great Depression, Jews in Mount Holly banded together to support each other through the hard times.

Known then as the Mount Holly Hebrew Social Club, this tight knit group evolved into much more than a social group for the Jewish farmer and merchant families in this historic downtown. By the time of its name change to Temple Har Zion in 1962, the community had its own Torah, an established school, and a proud history of social engagement—from supporting Jewish soldiers during World War II, to pushing for the establishment of Israel and civil rights to serving the spiritual needs of developmentally disabled residents of the New Lisbon Developmental Center.

Although Mount Holly’s Jewish population has greatly diminished over the years, THZ continues to thrive today. With about 100 families, it offers a mix of old traditions and new—including services incorporating drums and keyboards as well as dancing— that attract families from throughout Camden and Burlington counties.

“It’s quite an accomplishment for us to have been able to maintain ourselves,” said Rabbi Richard Simon, THZ’s spiritual leader since 1985. “We’re a small but very innovative synagogue. We pull from Cherry Hill, Marlton, Mount Laurel people who want to be members of a smaller, haymisha congregation that offers a wide variety of Jewish practices.”

Temple Har Zion congregants will recall the Burlington County synagogue’s proud history and bright future with a special multi-generational Havdallah service and reception on Oct. 24.

In its long history, Temple Har Zion has undergone many changes. By Simon’s count, there have been at least four buildings, eight different rabbis,

80 Yom Kippur services, 160 Rosh Hashanah services and more than 500 kids have graduated from the religious school. The first rabbi, Raymond Leiman, was Conservative, while longtime spiritual leader Rabbi Max Danziger leaned Orthodox. Simon, who came to the synagogue as a Hebrew school teacher, is its first spiritual leader from the Jewish Renewal tradition. In its own words, the congregation describes itself as an egalitarian, Jewish Renewal-oriented congregation in the Conservative tradition.

Harlan Greenberg, the congregation’s oldest member, was 10 when his relatives and neighbors established the Mount Holly Hebrew Social Club. The first Hebrew school class was small, he recalled.

“I was in a class with three other boys and a girl,” Greenberg remembered. “The rabbi came from Burlington to give Hebrew lessons twice a week and we paid him 50 cents each class.”

Laurie Harrison, who grew up in the synagogue, said THZ was the epicenter of life for its members. Because the community has always been small, she explained, there has never been paid staff beyond clergy and teachers. The mothers would make food in the kitchen for events and keep the building beautiful for Shabbat.

“You would walk in and always smell kugel or cookies,” she said.

Although much has changed throughout the years, the warmth of the congregation has remained the same, Harrison said.

Anniversary celebrations will start with a Havdalah service at 7:30 p.m. at the synagogue followed by an intergenerational candle lighting honoring members from each decade and a lavish cocktail buffet.

For more information, call (609) 267-0660. .

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