2018-08-01 / Voice at the Shore

Shirat Hayam celebrates two years of unity at August 19 rededication

Voice shore editor

Rabbi Jonathan Kremer shows off one of the new mezuzot that will be put up during the “Magical ReDedication” of Shirat Hayam on August 19. Rabbi Jonathan Kremer shows off one of the new mezuzot that will be put up during the “Magical ReDedication” of Shirat Hayam on August 19. “The Magic of reDedication”— that is what Shirat Hayam is calling the August 19 community celebration marking the two-year anniversary of the merger that brought Temple Emeth Shalom and Congregation Beth Judah together to form a combined Reform/Conservative congregation at 700 N. Swarthmore Avenue in Ventnor, the longtime home of Beth Judah.

The reDedication, a festive morning beginning at 10 a.m. that includes brunch, live music, a magic show and more, also celebrates the completion of major renovations to the former Beth Judah building, which now houses both Reform and Conservative worship spaces. Two new mezuzahs will also be placed on building entrances.

“We are celebrating the renovations and the unity of the congregational families as well. It’s a happy celebratory thing, for all generations, that’s open to the public, so that everyone can come and see what we’ve done,” said Gordon Geller, Shirat Hayam’s Reform rabbi.

Marc Needleman, who will be honored at Shirat Hayam’s August 19 rededication, was the driving force behind replicating Emeth Shalom’s pulpit at Shirat Hayam. Marc Needleman, who will be honored at Shirat Hayam’s August 19 rededication, was the driving force behind replicating Emeth Shalom’s pulpit at Shirat Hayam. “Chad Juros, a well-known magician who had his bar mitzvah at Emeth Shalom, will be there. Elected officials will be there. It’s kind of a coming-out ceremony, to show the community we are one congregational family in one renovated building. It will be kind of like Chanukah in August!” added Geller.

The honoree for the event is Marc Needleman, who served as co-president of Shirat Hayam up until mid-June and was also president of Emeth Shalom for 8 years prior. Needleman was instrumental in creating the Shidduch between the two congregations and also oversaw the renovation project.

“Marc was the driving force behind the renovation,” stressed Shirat Hayam’s current President Ed Weinstein, a longtime Beth Judah member. The synagogue’s Conservative Rabbi, Jonathan Kremer, wholeheartedly agreed. “The amount of time Marc’s devoted to all of this is staggering—and much appreciated,” he said.

For Needleman, the renovations were part and parcel with the merger. Former Emeth Shalom congregants were promised their own reform worship space in the Ventnor building, and Needleman wanted to quickly recreate a version of what they’d had at Emeth Shalom, so that congregants would feel at home in the Ventnor shul.

By last Rosh Hashanah, when former Emeth Shalom congregants celebrated the Jewish New Year in Ventnor for the first time, the stained-glass windows and ark from Emeth Shalom had been installed in the Reform worship area, although the area still had unfinished walls and lacked carpeting.

Installing the windows was key, stressed both Needleman and Geller. Many older Emeth Shalom congregants had been heartbroken to leave their beloved Margate shul and to see it torn down. However, “once the stained glass was up, they felt like they were back home,” said Needleman. “It almost seems like the same pulpit,” said Rabbi Geller. “This is very comforting to people,” he noted, adding: “Marc did this.”

“I took the bull by the horns and ran with it,” said Needleman. “Otherwise, it would not have gotten done.”

Creating of a Reform worship space big enough to accommodate High Holiday crowds also involved relocating the temple library to just behind the chapel area, where it could be converted to seating space for an extra fifty people, said Needleman. This is turn involved moving offices and tearing down walls.

Yet all this was only a small piece of the overall renovation project, which included a new roof, new carpeting, updated air conditioners, playground improvements, new landscaping, and many “green” changes, such as LED lights and solar panels, said current Shirat Hayam president Ed Weinstein. “We are doing our best to be socially responsible,” he explained.

The improvements are ongoing, he added. “We are looking to modify our foyer, to make it a comfortable place for people to hang out.” The gift shop may also be moved to the foyer, so that its current space can be used as a meeting room. “It’s a big building, but space is getting tight,” noted Weinstein.

For the past year, Weinstein and Needleman have served as co-presidents, each representing their former congregations. Now, however, Weinstein is the sole president, representing everyone.

This shift is emblematic of how far the two former congregations have come in unifying into one family. “Now we are fully merged in the administrative sense, but of course it’s a process,” said Weinstein.

The process is ongoing and is “not without challenges,” said Rabbi Kremer. The merger not only brought together two distinct religious cultures— Reform and Conservative; it also unified two groups of congregants with different social, volunteer and financial cultures that had developed over many years’ time.

Kremer sees this new need to consider others’ point of view as a positive growth experience for all involved, and Geller agrees. “Putting two congregational families together is not a matter of revolution, it’s a matter of evolution. The traditions of both congregations are long and meaningful, and people are attached to tradition. It takes growing together. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Yet obviously, a lot can happen in two years. In addition to the many renovations that have been completed to the building, people have made new friends and have a new energy. The merger “really breathed new life into the congregation,” noted Weinstein. “People were excited and concerned about what was going on and came out to get involved. It created and upward swing to morale, an upward spiral of enthusiasm.”

All that needs to be celebrated, say Shirat Hayam leaders— which is why everyone is now invited to take part in “The Magical reDedication” of Shirat Hayam on Sunday, August 18. The event costs $18 for adults and is free for children 12 and under. Attendees are asked to RSVP before August 10, and to bring a non-perishable food item for the JFS pantry with them to the event. For more information, contact Shirat Hayam at 609-822-7116. 

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