Shul puts its art into centennial celebrations

Shul puts its art into centennial celebrations

Beth El members gather at the synagogue on Franklin Street, built in 1937, preparing to carry the Torah scrolls in a procession to the new building on Maple Stream Road, March 27, 1977. Photos courtesy Beth El Synagogue
Beth El members gather at the synagogue on Franklin Street, built in 1937, preparing to carry the Torah scrolls in a procession to the new building on Maple Stream Road, March 27, 1977. Photos courtesy Beth El Synagogue

Members of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor will celebrate its 100th anniversary with the March 5 dedication of a mosaic Torah scroll symbolizing the congregation’s unity.

The artistic rendition composed of 163 handmade glazed tiles will hold pride of place on a wall in the temple’s lobby. Each of the mosaic’s clay tiles was designed and created by members of the temple, painted in a Jewish theme of their choice.

That collaborative effort is indicative of the cohesiveness that Beth El has enjoyed for 100 years, said Rabbi Jay Kornsgold, religious leader for the last 17 of those years.

“The mosaic is a wonderful addition to our synagogue and really shows the collaboration and enthusiasm of the congregation,” he said. “This is really going to leave a legacy for the future. I look at the 100th anniversary as a chance to take stock of our lives, similar to what we do on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.”

Themed “A Taste of the Past, A Toast to the Future,” the celebratory dinner will honor temple members Brian and Jill Chevlin of Princeton Junction, David Goldstein of Jackson, and Betty Zeitz of Princeton.

It is just one in a series of centennial celebrations that included a dueling piano performance and dueling food event (New York vs. Philly) in November, a Hanukka breakfast bingo in December, and the design of vintage-style Beth El spirit wear, which is available for sale until the final event — a birthday bash and spring fling on May 15, said Wendy Soos of East Windsor, who is chairing the 100th anniversary events.

Beth El was founded in Hightstown in 1911 by a group of Jewish farmers who met for services in each other’s homes. They built their first synagogue in 1937 on Franklin Street in Hightstown, in a structure that now serves as a union hall.

Established as an Orthodox congregation, Beth El began to consider becoming Conservative in the late ’40s and officially became part of the movement in the 1960s.

Beth El moved to its present location in East Windsor in 1977, and in 1998 the Zeitz Education Wing was added to the building. It houses a full-time preschool, library, and religious school that meets twice weekly.

The temple has grown in the last 17 years from 180 to 330 families. But there was a time when “you could count the members on your two hands,” said honoree Betty Zeitz, 90. The family of Zeitz’s late husband, Max, was among the original founders. The education wing is named in his memory.

“Temple Beth El is a well-liked temple that is very warm to all its members,” Zeitz said. “With all the development in the area, the temple has grown by leaps and bounds.”

When Zeitz first moved to the area from Philadelphia in 1952, after her marriage to Max, she recalled that nearly 90 percent of Hightstown’s merchants were Jewish; they included a kosher butcher, David Goldstein’s pharmacy, Blumenthal’s ladies clothing, and the Schlossberg family’s general store. The Zeitz family operated a dairy cow brokering business.

Honoree Goldstein, 93, remembers a slower, quieter pace of life, where temple kiddushes consisted of coffee and cake, and kids played marbles instead of video games. The basic tenets of the congregation, however, have remained the same, he said.

“Beth El has always been to me a symbol of spiritual inspiration for its members,” said Goldstein, who served as temple president in the 1940s. “It’s a place that teaches people how to live, have high moral standards, and a respect for each and every person and animal, whether it’s an ant or giraffe.”

Goldstein’s father, Philip, an immigrant from Poland, was among the earliest Jewish settlers in Hightstown. A stained-glass window that honors Philip and his wife Frieda was transferred from the old temple to the new.

Honoree Brian Chevlin said he and his wife, honoree Jill Schwartz-Chevlin, and their three children regard the temple as their second home.

“I feel privileged and honored to be celebrating at this milestone,” said Chevlin, the temple’s current president. “The synagogue and its members are a warm, embracing community. We feel so privileged to have met such close friends who have become such an important part of our lives. We are looking forward to starting our second century in the community.”

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