With what one congregation leader called “heartwarming” support for the move, Temple Shalom of Lower Bucks County in Levittown, Pa., is planning to join with Shir Ami of Bucks County in Newtown, Pa.
The union of the two Reform congregations was unanimously approved by Temple Shalom members on Aug. 7 and by Shir Ami congregants on Aug. 30.
After several years of dwindling membership and “huge” deficits piling up, Temple Shalom is selling its building, leading to the decision to unite the two congregations.
“We have a wonderful future together,” said Alan Sheinberg, who chaired the Shir Ami committee overseeing what he called the “assets acquisition.” “We’re all thrilled to be able to get together with the folks at Temple Shalom. We look forward to having them as part of our congregation with great anticipation.”
He told NJJN it was “heartwarming to see such support for this move.”
The Levittown Reform temple was founded about 60 years ago and has been in its current 18,000-square-foot building about 55 years, its president, Alan Rosenberg, told NJJN. The structure, located on a seven- to eight-acre tract, is under contract for sale to Easter Seals of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which plans to move its headquarters there.
The sale is expected to bring in about $800,000, which will be transferred to Shir Ami, along with its Torah scrolls, ritual items, memorial plaques, stained-glass windows, and yahrtzeit boards. The social hall will be renamed “Shalom Hall” in honor of Temple Shalom.
Rabbi Annette Koch has a year remaining on her contract at Temple Shalom and will stay with the newly joined congregations for that time, joining Shir Ami’s Rabbi Elliot Strom; Rabbi Eric Goldberg, director of its religious school; and rabbinic scholar Rabbi Paula Goldberg. Free transportation for Temple Shalom senior members living in the Levittown area will be provided to weekly Shabbat services and on High Holy Days from a single location.
“This is a time that we need to reach out to others in our community who are experiencing a terrible loss, a synagogue that existed for many years and is a part of their lives,” said Shir Ami president Becky Markowitz in a letter to congregants. “This is an emotional time for many of their congregants. Our goal is that by joining together our community and congregations will be much stronger together and that new traditions will be created, while keeping what is special about each congregation.”
Temple Shalom is still in its building, with the sale expected to be finalized by the end of October. The two congregations will join for High Holy Day services at Shir Ami. A transition committee has been formed with members from both synagogues.
Temple Shalom once boasted a membership of about 300 families, but that number has shrunk to 102, said Rosenberg. And although the synagogue had been running at a loss for several years, he said in a recent shul bulletin, the deficit for this fiscal year was expected to rise to $100,000, making a merger with another institution inevitable.
“As sad as a merger may be to many of us, a quick look at the American-Jewish landscape will yield case after case of synagogues merging, many in our own backyard,” he wrote.
Although Shir Ami has also lost members in recent years, it still maintained a healthy 775-family membership even before the union. The two congregations are about 20 minutes apart.
“We know a lot of people at Shir Ami,” said Rosenberg. “We’ve always felt a connection with them. It’s in a reasonably good location for our members so we sort of tied the knot, so to speak.”
While details remain to be worked out, including a ceremony for transferring the Torah scrolls, members of both congregations see a bright future. “Now the hard work begins as we get everything in place,” said Sheinberg. “We look forward to wonderful things happening.”