This is the first in a series of posts I plan to write regarding the subject of synagogue downsizing, the closing of many synagogues and the increase in synagogue mergers taking place. The economy, demographic changes, shifting populations and, in many cases, an aging congregational membership base, all have led to changes in the American synagogue landscape in the past few years. While these phenomena are certainly not new within the American Jewish Community, it is my opinion that the frequency of these changes is increasing steadily. One example out of several that I will be talking about is Temple Beth El located in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Bradford is a small city in rural northern Pennsylvania, about 78 miles south of Buffalo. The area was once a large manufacturing and oil producing area. Established in 1958 through the merger of Temple Beth Zion and Congregation Beth Israel, Temple Beth El ultimately traces its beginnings to 1879 when the Bradford Hebrew Congregation was established as the first Jewish congregation in the city. A new Mid-Century Modern style synagogue for Temple Beth El was dedicated in 1961. It featured simple, modern lines, but had a very unique stylized menorah sculpture on the exterior wall with small colored windows to simulate candles on the menorah. The congregation peaked in the 1960's, and by the 1980's the Jewish population had begun to decline in Bradford. In 2000 the congregation made plans to become a lay-led congregation and find smaller, more suitable quarters. In 2006, Temple Beth El moved to a remodeled former church building on Clarence Street in Bradford. Temple Beth El continues to serve five counties, providing a place for Jewish worship and cultural activities . Despite its reduced size, Temple Beth El took the steps to adapt and change in order to remain a viable Jewish institution in a decidedly non-Jewish area of Pennsylvania. For a more detailed history and an image of their current temple, please visit Temple Beth El's website: http://pa002.urj.net/
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
I recently learned that a wonderful small Jewish congregation in Gadsden, Alabama closed their doors due to a continued decline in the local Jewish population. Beth Israel was one of the synagogues featured in my cd-rom book, "American Synagogues: A Photographic Journey". Their house of worship was a beautiful classical style synagogue built in 1922 and maintained beautifully through the years. Established as a formal congregation in 1908, Beth Israel closed in 2010 bringing to an end another chapter of Alabama Jewish history and small town American jewish history. The leaders of the congregation decided to give the temple building to the city of Gadsden for use as a cultural and historical venue.