2016-09-14 / Voice at the Shore

With much fanfare, Emeth Shalom Torahs officially move to Shirat Hayam

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


The Torah procession makes its way down Jerome Avenue, en route to Shirat Hayam (formerly Beth Judah) in Ventnor. Ina Goldhagen, daughter of Emeth Shalom’s Founding Rabbi Seymour Rosen, is pictured here front and center carrying a Torah. The Torah procession makes its way down Jerome Avenue, en route to Shirat Hayam (formerly Beth Judah) in Ventnor. Ina Goldhagen, daughter of Emeth Shalom’s Founding Rabbi Seymour Rosen, is pictured here front and center carrying a Torah. On Sunday, August 21, a spirited procession of Shirat Hayam congregants accompanied Torahs being moved from Temple Emeth Shalom in Margate on a 1¾-mile journey to their new home in Ventnor, to the building that was formerly Beth Judah and is now Shirat Hayam.

The procession included members of both former synagogues, some whom walked and sang, and others who followed along in cars. A police escort accompanied the group as it made its way down Jerome Avenue and through the side streets leading to Shirat Hayam.

The morning was sunny, hot and deeply moving.

For many who had called Emeth Shalom their spiritual home for most of their lives, the morning was difficult.


The morning began with a service by Rabbi Gordon Geller in which the Torahs were ceremoniously removed from the Ark at Emeth Shalom. Pictured here, from left, are Rabbi Geller, Emeth Shalom past president Bob Bishop, Shirat Hayam presidents Sheila Friedman and Marc Needleman, William Locke, former Beth Judah president Bruce Peskoe (at back), and Andrew Bishop. The morning began with a service by Rabbi Gordon Geller in which the Torahs were ceremoniously removed from the Ark at Emeth Shalom. Pictured here, from left, are Rabbi Geller, Emeth Shalom past president Bob Bishop, Shirat Hayam presidents Sheila Friedman and Marc Needleman, William Locke, former Beth Judah president Bruce Peskoe (at back), and Andrew Bishop. “I feel like I’m going to a funeral,” said one Emeth Shalom congregant who blinked back tears as the event began with a service at the 65-year-old Reform synagogue in Margate, which officially merged with Conservative Congregation Beth Judah on July 1.

Yet not everyone was sad.

“I’m happy,” said Emeth Shalom’s former president Marc Needleman, a 12-year member of the Margate synagogue, who helped craft the merger as a way to provide a financially viable future for his congregation. Nevertheless, he understood the emotional and physical difficulties that his older congregants were experiencing, and spent much of the morning arranging rides for people who needed them and making sure that walkers braving the heat had plenty of water.

The morning brought a flood of memories for Rebbetzin Elaine Geller.

“This was my home,” she said wistfully, recalling the times her children played on the bima (before they knew better), and how a piece of candy thrown at a bar mitzvah boy once broke a piece of the gorgeous stained glass mural behind the bima. She also recalled when that stained-glass mural was first installed— and so many more memories of moments glorious and mundane that she and her fellow congregants experienced within the walls of the building they were about to leave.

“It is an emotional time,” said Rabbi Gordon Geller as he opened the service to remove the Torahs from the Ark. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” he said, as he led the 100-plus people assembled in prayer and readings about embracing change.

Geller also read proclamations

Emeth Shalom and Shirat Hayam had received from Governor Chris Christie and Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, recognizing the important role Emeth Shalom has played in the community and offering congratulations for the merger.

Finally, the Torahs were ceremoniously removed from the Ark to begin their journey to Shirat Hayam. Rebbetzin Elaine Geller took the three Torahs out of the ark, handing the largest two over to Shirat Hayam co-presidents Marc Needleman and Sheila Friedman, who marched them out of the synagogue and into the street.

The procession then made its way through the streets of Margate and Ventnor, led by two people holding a Shirat Hayam banner. Glistening from the heat, walkers clad in shorts and tank tops accompanied the Torahs past homes, cars, tennis and basketball courts, and the JCC, while singing along to recorded Jewish and Israeli music. The Torahs themselves made the entire trip under the shelter of a chuppah, with different people taking turns holding the Torahs as well as the four poles of the chuppah.

Among those holding the Torahs during the nearly two-mile trek were relatives of Emeth Shalom’s Founding Rabbi, Seymour Rosen, who passed away in 2009.

Rosen’s daughter, Ina Goldhagen of Linwood, choked back tears as she recalled childhood memories of growing up at Emeth Shalom. “Daddy built this temple. This was our home.”

Her sister, Harriet Uris of Cherry Hill, added: “My father watched every nail going into this synagogue—it was his baby.”

Their cousin, Rachel Kaufman of Toms River, remembered how as a child she dreamed of walking down the aisle at Emeth Shalom on her wedding day—a dream that eventually came true.

What would Rabbi Rosen have said about the merger? “Dad was a progressive thinker,” said Uris. “He would say, ‘You have to do what you have to do.’”

Sheila Friedman, who helped create the merger as Beth Judah president, beamed with pride as she walked alongside the Torahs, singing and shaking a tambourine. Yet despite the excitement she and other Beth Judah congregants clearly felt, many expressed empathy for their new brothers and sisters from Emeth Shalom. “It’s bittersweet,” said Karen Pollock. “I feel bad for people who had a lot of memories there.”

Lois Jacobs also expressed empathy, recalling how she felt when Beth Judah moved from its original building on Ventnor Avenue in Ventnor— where it began more than 80 years ago—to its current backbay location. “It’s very moving,” said Jacobs.

When the Torahs finally arrived at their destination, Rabbi Jonathan Kremer, the former Beth Judah rabbi who is now Shirat Hayam’s Conservative rabbi, presided over their placement in the Ark, leading the congregation in a prayer of rededication.

“Let us always be aware that this building is more than bricks, stone and mortar,” said Kremer. “May the spirit of Judaism radiate to all within its walls.”

The long, eventful morning concluded with a brunch.

Despite the day’s ceremony, Emeth Shalom’s Torahs still have a bit more traveling to do, acknowledged Rabbi Geller. His former congregation will observe all of their usual High Holidays traditions at Emeth Shalom for the last time this year.

“That will be the culmination of our 65 years in [the Emeth Shalom] building. Once we enter the new year, we are a new, cross-denominational congregation,” said Geller, who will continue on at Shirat Hayam as the Reform rabbi. 

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