‘A Natural Fit’
The Emanuel and Beth Hillel Synagogues Merge
By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD – Over the past several years, the leaders and membership of Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield carefully weighed their plans for the future.
As with many synagogues in recent years, Beth Hillel’s congregation was aging and its membership was declining.
After selling their building in 2017 and discussing several options including merger or finding another smaller facility, Beth Hillel has now merged with The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford.
The merger became effective June 1.
“The Emanuel and Beth Hillel communities have contemplated merging over the years,” said Elysa Graber-Lipperman, president of The Emanuel. “A merged congregation was a natural fit. The two communities shared a rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Philip Lazowski, and congregants that were members of both congregations. The Emanuel has had many former Beth Hillel members join over the past ten years who were welcomed and have also assumed leadership positions.”
“As a longtime member, past president, and a member of the Merger Negotiating Committee, I am delighted that the Beth Hillel – Emanuel merger was finally consummated,” said David Baram. “Beth Hillel Synagogue was a unique institution that galvanized an unusual sense of spirit and belonging. Its closing is distressful for all of us who considered Beth Hillel our home… The merger with Emanuel Synagogue, however, is an opportunity to preserve our Beth Hillel heritage in a religious and social setting that closely mirrors our prior experience.”
The merged congregation had a “soft” celebration of the merger on Shabbat services on June 2.
It is anticipated that The Emanuel will grow by 50 to 60 member households.
Graber-Lipperman shared details of the merger at Emanuel’s June 11 annual meeting.
“Leaders from both communities involved with the merger agreement, as well as the new Emanuel congregants, were honored with aliyot,” Graber-Lipperman said. “Volunteers from both communities were celebrated. Two former Beth Hillel members, Jacqueline Isaacson and Tammi Kraushaar, were among those elected to the Board of Trustees.”
Founded in 1952 by seven local Jewish families, Beth Hillel Synagogue has a rich history.
The synagogue opened the doors of a newly constructed building on Blue Hills Avenue in 1955. When membership grew to 250 families, the congregation moved to a new home on Wintonbury Avenue in 1966. In the late 1980s, the congregation expanded its building to accommodate some 1,300 members.
But by 2015 membership had declined. Beth Hillel’s leaders and members voted to sell their building. (It is now the home of The Chinese Baptist Church of Greater Hartford.)
Beth Hillel began discussions to determine its future. Closing wasn’t an option; despite its small membership, Beth Hillel still had a devoted and active core membership.
“We remain a viable and active congregation and therefore need to plan our future accordingly,” Beth Hillel President Jacqueline Isaacson told the Ledger at the time.
Beth Hillel members were asked to fill out a survey with several alternatives including merging with another Conservative synagogue.
Merging won out and after several years of off-and-on negotiations, the merger with Emanuel finally was approved.
“The congregations share a lot in common,” explained Graber-Lipperman. “Many Emanuel members are longtime residents of Bloomfield, were members of Beth Hillel Synagogue in the past, and have family and friends who were members of Beth Hillel.”
Baram agreed that the two congregations have a lot in common.
“We are reuniting with our beloved Rabbi, Philip Lazowski, who reflects so much of the Beth Hillel history and culture,” he said. “We feel comfortable with the religious services, Rabbi Small, the membership, the congregational ruach, and the social and community commitments at Emanuel which closely parallel our Beth Hillel philosophies and customs.”
The Beth Hillel Holocaust Torah will be displayed outside The Emanuel sanctuary. The Beth Hillel Torahs have been added to The Emanuel’s Torahs and will be used at services. Plaques recognizing Beth Hillel’s rich history and legacy will be created and mounted near, to, or in The Emanuel sanctuary. Memorial plaques and Trees of Life, which hung in the hallways of Beth Hillel, will be mounted at The Emanuel. And a large room at The Emanuel known as the “Activity Room” has been renamed the “Beth Hillel Community Room,” and signage will be created and mounted to reflect the new name.
A Friday night service and Shabbat dinner in October are being planned to commemorate the merger – a cause for celebration for all of the temple’s combined membership.
“The merger,” Graber-Lipperman said, “has created a new Emanuel that is a larger, stronger, and more sustainable Conservative synagogue.”
Added Baram, “This is a mutual opportunity for our two sister synagogues to strengthen our newly merged congregation as we plan for a bright and successful future.”
Temple Beth Hillel and Beth Ahm to merge
By Stacey Dresner
WINDSOR/SOUTH WINDSOR – Several months ago when the executive committee of Congregation Beth Ahm in Windsor decided to close the temple’s doors this June 30, committee member Marla Adelsberger said that they had a “really strong sense of responsibility to the congregation to land us somewhere.”
Later this summer the congregation will land in South Windsor when they merge with Temple Beth Hillel.
“Decline in membership and changes in demographics in the area were some of the reasons for Congregation Beth Ahm’s difficult decision to close, but our members’ relationships and determination to stay together are strong,” explains Adelsberger, who has belonged to the synagogue for her entire life. “For the past year, members of our Board have visited other area synagogues, seeking another congregation with which we could be compatible, both spiritually and socially.”
“From our earliest conversations and visits to Temple Beth Hillel, we knew there was a special connection,” says Adelsberger. “Over the past few months, many of our congregants have attended their services and special events and agree that this is a very good fit!”
For the past two years, Beth Ahm’s seven religious school students have been going to Hebrew school at Temple Beth Hillel in South Windsor. “That was a huge success,” Adelsberger said.
Congregation Beth Ahm was founded in 1951 and was then known as The Jewish Community of Greater Windsor. Beth Ahm opened the doors of its building at 362 Palisado Ave. in the heart of the Windsor Historic District in 1960.
“It has been an honor and pleasure to be a part of the team dedicated to bringing the two synagogues together,” says Jason Wasserman, president of Temple Beth Hillel in South Windsor. “The Congregation Beth Ahm members I’ve met already feel like family and I’m looking forward to our future together as we join hands and walk into this new adventure.” Temple Beth Hillel was formed in 1960 and moved into its current building on the corner of Governors Highway and Baker Lane in South Windsor in 2000. Affiliated with the Union of Reform Judaism, the synagogue holds services in English and Hebrew, has an active religious school, and is very involved in social action and social justice. Rabbi Jeffrey Glickman has been the religious leader of Temple Beth Hillel since 1996.
With the closing of the Windsor synagogue, Rabbi Alan Lefkowitz, Congregation Beth Ahm’s religious leader for the past 19 years, will become the chaplain of The Hebrew Center for Health and Rehabilitation (formerly the Hebrew Home) in West Hartford and will serve as rabbi for Hoffman Summerwood in West Hartford. He will continue in his role as the Jewish chaplain at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, as rabbi at Seabury in Bloomfield, and a chaplain of the Connecticut House of Representatives in Hartford.
The leadership of both congregations are finalizing plans for the merger, and several special events will be held next week to mark their union.
On Thursday, June 21 between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., Congregation Beth Ahm’s members and Rabbi Alan Lefkowitz will host a “Community Open House of Appreciation” in the synagogue at 362 Palisado Ave., with light refreshments and an ongoing video presentation with historic and memorable photos.
On Saturday, June 23 at 9:30 a.m., Congregation Beth Ahm will celebrate its final Shabbat morning service, led by Rabbi Alan Lefkowitz.
And on Sunday, June 24 at 10 a.m., in a symbolic act of blending, a Torah Tiyul (walk) will begin at Congregation Beth Ahm in Windsor as members of both congregations carry a Torah scroll along the 10-mile route to Temple Beth Hillel in South Windsor. At approximately 10:30 a.m., walkers arrive at the Windsor Town Green for a brief Torah passing ceremony and songs. They then will continue on their walk to South Windsor. The group is expected to arrive at Temple Beth Hillel at approximately 2 p.m., where the celebration will continue with music, refreshments, and the Torah will be placed into the ark of its new home.
“We welcome our new members as part of our family,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Glickman. “Both congregations are looking forward to this exciting new chapter in our lives.”
New covers give kovod to Emanuel Torahs
In 2015, after The Emanuel Synagogue unveiled brand new covers for its High Holiday Torahs, the congregation decided they should consider new covers for the temple’s “everyday” Torahs.
“We took a look at our everyday covers and said, ‘You know, they could use a sprucing up also,’” said Francene Weingast, chair of Emanuel’s Torah Cover Committee.
After three years of planning, fundraising and designing, The Emanuel dedicated its new set of Torah covers and new Torah belts at its annual meeting on June 11.
Connecticut Judaic artist Jeanete Kuvin Oren designed the new covers with the pomegranate tree as its motif, depicting the Tree of Life. When looking up at the ark where the Torahs now sit, each of the new covers are connected – the two Torahs in the center contain two halves of the trees trunk, while the branches, filled with colorful leaves and pomegranates, spread from one Torah cover to the next.
Donors selected a Hebrew phrase that was personally meaningful. Each Hebrew phrase chosen is woven into the donor’s cover. Some of the expressions chosen were Tefillah (prayer), Eishet Hayil (woman of valor), Limud (study), Chesed (kindness), Kavod (honor), and Bracha (blessing).
The congregation “said goodbye” to the retiring Torah covers as they paraded them around after the June 9 Torah service. The covers will be put together as a wall hanging and remain in the synagogue.
“By refreshing these items with custom-designed, exquisite covers and blankets, the Torahs have been given the kavod they deserve,” said Emanuel President Elysa Graber-Lipperman.