The autumn of 2009 was the best of times and the worst of times for Ahavath Israel Congregation in Ewing.
The congregation was just a few months away from marking its 100th anniversary, which would come in December. Beyond that milestone, however, the future was anything but promising.
“Unfortunately, due to a decline in membership and the economic times, we knew it was going to be necessary to pursue a way to keep the congregation alive,” said Richard Byer, the congregation’s past president.
One of those with whom Byer shared the Ahavath Israel’s dilemma was Rabbi Daniel Grossman, religious leader of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville. The rabbi suggested that the days and months following the centenary celebration need not be sad times for Byer and his fellow congregants; Grossman went on to propose a plan that would instead usher in a period of excitement and renewal.
The seeds planted during that fateful conversation blossomed a year later, on the morning of Oct. 17, when the members of Ahavath Israel were formally welcomed to Adath Israel. Appropriately, the celebratory program was titled “In One House.”
The merger became official when Grossman carried a Torah scroll from Ahavath Israel into the Adath Israel sanctuary and under the Ahavath Israel huppa. The about 150 people in attendance were treated to a concert featuring the Israeli and hasidic melodies of vocalist/guitarist Yoel Sharabi and musical numbers from the student choir of the Adath Israel religious school.
The program also included the dedication of artwork from Ahavath Israel in the Adath Israel rotunda. Adath Israel president Michael Weiner predicted that the rotunda will serve as “a focal point for what has been achieved” though the merger.
“We’d always thought of Ahavath Israel as our family, and now we have a new family,” said Mary Lou Byer, Richard’s wife and also a past Ahavath Israel president. “We have been seamlessly accepted into the Adath Israel community. This represents a new beginning for us, and we just know it’s going to be a wonderful experience.”
Event coordinator Hedda Morton agreed.
“From the start, our intent was to bring the two communities together in as harmonious a manner as possible,” said Morton, Adath Israel’s director of congregational learning. “We wanted to make sure we were responsive to the needs of our friends from Ahavath Israel, and that’s what makes it so special for everyone now that we’ve reached this point.”
Like many others, Bernice Abramovich, immediate past president of Adath Israel and chair of the merger committee, seemed to have taken almost as much delight in the process as she did in the end result.
“We’re extremely proud of the way in which we went about this,” she said. “We should take pride in the fact that our children see us as one people, united, working diligently with one another to achieve positive results. May we continue to go from strength to strength.”
Adath Israel Hazzan Arthur Katlin is convinced that the merger is “something that was meant to be.”
“What we have here is a melding of two longstanding congregations with rich cultures and rich histories,” the cantor said. “And now, these two congregations have become one, in one house. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”