BLOOMFIELD – A new congregation was voted into existence last week, when the members of Congregation Tikvoh Chadoshoh of Bloomfield and Congregation B’nai Sholom of Newington agreed to merge.
The new Conservative congregation, B’nai Tikvoh Sholom, will occupy Tikvoh Chadoshoh’s current building at 180 Still Road on the West Hartford-Bloomfield line.
“We are all very excited about this opportunity,” says David Schwartz, B’nai Sholom president. “Our two communities have contributed greatly to the history of Jewish people in the Hartford area. This new venture will ensure that we continue to honor that history while looking towards our future.”
The two congregations have been considering a merger for about five months, says Deb Polun, Tikvoh Chadoshoh president. The religious schools were combined in September, using a new curriculum model, and other collaborative events followed.
“What we found was that we had two communities that are very similar ritually, spiritually and socially,” she says. “We could tell we had a great match; it was ‘beshert (predestined),’ Like any marriage, we knew we shared a vision, and we worked to iron out the details over the past several months.”
Schwartz says that the merger and transition should be completed by the summer. The new congregation expects to have more than 230 “founding members.” Rabbi Debra Cantor of B’nai Sholom will serve as spiritual leader.
Dale Osborn, past president of B’nai Sholom, says that Cantor will be a draw for families with children. “Rabbi Cantor is a warm, spiritual person who is very involved in the community,” Osborn says. “She teaches some very interesting adult-learning classes and the religious-school students already feel a connection to her.”
Congregation B’nai Sholom was founded in 1956 in Newington. Last year, the congregation sold its building and held services and holiday celebrations at Solomon Schechter Day School in West Hartford. Congregation Tikvoh Chadoshoh was founded in 1942 by families who fled the Holocaust, and were led by founding rabbi, Hans Bodenheimer z”l.
“This merger is just right for all concerned,” says Tikvoh Chadoshoh’s Rabbi Stephen Landau, who will step down from his current position when his contract concludes this summer.
Polun says that the new congregation will have a joint board for an initial period beginning in July, with co-directors from both spiritual communities. Leaders expect to hold elections in the fall, after the High Holidays, though the decision is still to be determined by an ad hoc bylaws committee.
Rabbi Debra Cantor echoes the “beshert” sentiment. After B’nai Sholom sold its building and moved to West Hartford, the congregation only knew where it would hold High Holiday services, nothing more. In the meantime, Rabbi Landau had informed the Tikvoh Chadoshoh board that he planned to return to the Southwest, “and the wheels started turning,” Cantor says.” The two congregations began building on the success of their religious-school merger.
“We felt very warmly welcomed, so we started to ‘date’ each other over the summer,” she says, but tentatively at first.
“By late fall, both congregations wanted to get to know one another better and explore a relationship, a marriage of communities, each with its particular personality.”
The first major date was a joint Shabbat Chanukah, hosted by B’nai Sholom, and more programs and meetings followed. Early this year, a merger committee was formed, with five members from each congregation.
“It has been a delightful courtship period and there have been enough discussions that we both know what we’re getting into,” says Cantor.
The day after the congregational votes, Cantor had a chance to try out her new identity. While renewing her community clergy ID at a local hospital, she came to the blank marked “Congregation.” It was the first time she had to write down the new name and new address.
“I’m so excited; this is a new beginning for everybody and it’s this great feeling,” she says. “On the one hand, it’s a brand new entity and on the other hand, both congregations have this very rich history. So you’re not starting from scratch, but from very fertile soil. It’s springtime for this new congregation.”