By Cindy Mindell ~
STRATFORD – There’s an adage about endings attributed to author Orson Scott Card: “The opposite of the happy ending is not actually the sad ending; the sad ending is sometimes the happy ending. The opposite of the happy ending is actually the unsatisfying ending.”
That’s who Lou Rosen quotes when describing the recent developments at Temple Beth Sholom in Stratford, where he serves as president.
For nearly a year, the congregants of Beth Sholom have been laying out their next chapter. With an aging population and no young Jewish families moving into the area, the 64-year-old synagogue will join with Temple B’nai Torah in Trumbull.
In his 20 years at Beth Sholom, Rosen has witnessed what has become a familiar pattern among American Jewish communities. With shifts in population, mostly due to migration and aging, more and more congregations find that they must downsize, merge, and collaborate in order to survive.
The last several years have been the most challenging, Rosen says: the religious school shrank to a handful of students, merged with Temple Sinai in Milford, and then dwindled completely. Rabbi Yvonne Strassmann left the pulpit in 2011 (but is still involved as a congregant). The congregation shrank to 50 members.
“We realized that, demographically, and in terms of keeping the energy and finances going that you need to run a synagogue, we saw the writing on the wall,” he says.
At a congregational meeting in December, members elected to approach Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport and B’nai Torah. Both synagogues opened their doors, offering tours and special programming, and welcoming Beth Sholom to participate in services. In the end, Beth Sholom voted to join with B’nai Torah, best situated to serve congregants from Milford, Stratford, and Trumbull.
On the first Sunday in July, the two congregations shared a significant moment, moving the Beth Sholom Torah scrolls to their new home in Trumbull. A Torah service was begun at the Stratford synagogue, co-led by Rabbi Colin Brodie of B’nai Torah and Laurie Raccuia, Beth Sholom cantor; the scrolls were paraded around the sanctuary one last time and then driven to B’nai Torah, where the scrolls were welcomed and the service was concluded.
“When we saw that the Ark was empty and our Torahs were removed, it was very emotional; it was the definitive end,” says Nan Schwartz, chair of the Beth Sholom transition committee. “I have yet to come across one person from B’nai Torah who hasn’t said, ‘We can’t wait for you to join us; we are so excited.’ I have met wonderful people who are bending over backwards to make us feel welcome and wanted. They have left no stone unturned to include us in every event and service.”
B’nai Torah co-president Jeff Levi is humble in his perspective. “We’ve done a pretty good job of welcoming Beth Sholom,” he says. “Everyone in our congregation is looking forward to the new members joining us.”
Beth Sholom is planning farewell events over the summer, and will be officially welcomed at B’nai Torah in the fall.
“This is a sad time after 64 years but also an exciting time, because we’ll be able to bring our membership, energy, and commitment to B’nai Torah,” says Lou Rosen. “They’ve been just wonderful in the way they’ve welcomed us. It may be sad, but we’re ending well.”