The unification of two Conservative congregations will be marked on Aug. 28 when Congregation Torat El officially occupies the Oakhurst synagogue that was the home of one of those congregations, Temple Beth El, since 1972.
Congregation Torat El was formed several months ago as a result of the merger of Temple Beth Torah of Wanamassa and Temple Beth El in Oakhurst.
To complete the merger, Torah scrolls from the Beth Torah will be moved to their new home in Oakhurst.
“It really is such an exciting time,” said Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun, who assumed the pulpit of the newly merged congregation last summer. “While we have been together as one congregation, it was difficult to feel unified because of our separation. Now we have the last transitional piece in place.”
Torat El has been holding events and services at both sites, which are only two miles apart, while it attempted to sell one or the other of its two buildings.
The Wanamassa site was sold for $2.3 million to the Ilan High School for Girls, an Orthodox day school that had been renting space from Congregation Brothers of Israel in Elberon.
Because the Oakhurst site is on the busy county-owned Monmouth Road, carrying the scrolls in a procession would be difficult. Therefore, they will be transferred by car to their new home, said executive director Pam Cardullo. Congregants will then carry them as they march around the synagogue.
While the actual physical move will be made Aug. 10, renovations are still being made to offices and classrooms in Oakhurst. A “room of memories” is being created to house such items as Torah crowns, yads, Holocaust displays, and plaques from the former congregations. All memorial plaques have already been installed in the sanctuary and, Cardullo said, all dedicated items will find a home in the new location.
The money from the sale of the Wanamassa building will fund the renovation. “God willing, it will keep us in sound financial shape” for many years to come, she said.
Beth El’s roots reach back to 1912 in Asbury Park; it moved to Oakhurst 40 years ago. In 2002, the former Congregation B’nai Sholom of West End merged with Beth El, bringing its religious articles to the Oakhurst site. Beth Torah had been in the Wanamassa location about 60 years.
With all the mergers, Torat El probably has more Torah scrolls than it needs.
“Right now we’re keeping all the Torahs,” said Cardullo. “We’re going to find out how many we have now and how many we’ll need, and which ones are in need of repair. Anything we don’t need will probably be donated or dedicated.”
The now 580-family congregation will kick off its Aug. 28 celebration with speeches by former and current presidents at the Wanamassa site. The celebration will continue inside, probably including a dinner.
Schonbrun said the approaching move had left some former Beth Torah members feeling wistful about leaving the place where their children were named or became b’nei mitzva. “They had an attachment,” he said, “so it’s normal they feel a sense of loss. That’s why we’re having the ceremony as we transition from one building to the other. But there is also a sense of anticipation.” Ultimately, he added, the move will strengthen the congregation.
“I think the message here is that the congregation is not the building or space, but the people. Ultimately, it’s the community that is most important. This will go a long way to making us a thriving Congregation Torat El.”