By Stacey Dresner
Marla Levin Adelsberger says some of her favorite memories of being a member of Congregation Beth Ahm in Windsor have to do with food.
“As much as people say it might be centered around the sanctuary, for me it is centered around the kitchen,” says Adelsberger. “I’ve been involved with making Shabbat dinners for years and the dinners have been fun – you get 10 people in the kitchen helping and some of the largest crowds we have had beyond the High Holy Days have been for the Shabbat dinners.”
Last Tuesday night, Feb. 20, she and a crew of members got together to bake hamantaschen for the last time in Beth Ahm’s kitchen.
At the end of June, the 70-year-old Conservative synagogue will close its doors.
Adelsberg says that Beth Ahm has been struggling with an aging and declining membership for years, but that there are other factors in its closing.
“It is a combination of things,” explained Adelsberger, a member of Beth Ahm’s executive committee. “It’s a declining membership, which is true everywhere. We don’t have a succession plan for leadership – we have in the past but we don’t now – and we who are in leadership positions are tired.
“It’s a little bit about finances but that is not really why we are closing our doors,” she added. “It’s hard for the rabbi when participation and synagogue life has gone down so much, so it’s really a combination of all of those factors.”
Adelsberger says that she and the rest of the members are sad about the closure, but that they still have work to do.
“My feelings are really mixed because right now we are in the throes of making plans for what we want to do next and I feel a really strong sense of responsibility to the congregation to land us somewhere,” she says. “We are in communication with a couple of synagogues that we might be able to affiliate with. Board members are still hard at work with this. So there is a part of me that is just kind of carrying on. But there is a part of me thinking, ‘Ok, we have this number of Shabbat dinners left, we have this many events left and, yes, it is starting to register that we won’t be continuing as an independent synagogue. And that feels really weird.”
Founded by 16 families in 1951, the Jewish Community of Greater Windsor as it was then known, held services and religious school at a local church until its own building was completed on Palisado Avenue in 1960 in an historic residential area.
“The property was available and the Windsor Town Council was really supportive of getting a synagogue in Windsor,” Adelsberg recalls. “So planning and zoning allowed this not-historic looking building to be constructed there. It was really kind of a gift from the town of Windsor to allow it to be built to begin with, because in appearance it doesn’t fit with the neighborhood.”
The building is now up for sale.
“It is our hope that we can sell the building to another faith community. It just feels important,” Adelsberger says.
In its heyday, Beth Ahm counted its membership at 120 families, “which was still kind of small but they were all young families,” Adelsberg says. “The religious school was on double sessions and it was really a very active and thriving congregation.”
Adelsberger has been a member of Beth Ahm her whole life. She got married there, and her daughter’s baby-naming and bat mitzvah were held there.
“I have no memory of not being a member there,” Adelsberger says. “I can remember being there before I could read and sitting with a friend in services and somebody would come by and change the pages in the prayer book for us. It has always been a part of my life.”
Today Beth Ahm’s membership is at 60 families. 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 where Rabbi Alan Lefkowitz says they were “fully welcomed.”
“We are looking at the future,” Adelsberger says. “Like many synagogues, a significant number of our members are elderly, infirm, house-bound, so they can’t really take part in the activities of the synagogue.”
Rabbi Lefkowitz has been at Beth Ahm for 19 years. His contract expires at the end of June, and Adelsberger says that the board realized they could not operate the synagogue beyond that date.
“People were not coming, the school was getting smaller,” says Lefkowitz. “There were a lot of deaths and people leaving the area. There was an inevitability in the last two or three years that Beth Ahm was going to go the way of many small synagogues.”
He is currently seeking a new position. “I am looking for my ‘What’s Next?’ he says. “I want to continue doing this. I have a lot to give. I’ve got wind in my sails and I still want to contribute to the Jewish community. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I want to continue to do it.”
For now and until he leaves after June 30, he is still concerned about the members of Beth Ahm and wants to make sure they find a new home.
“The rabbi keeps asking me how I am doing, because he is really aware that this is the only place I have ever been,” Adelsberger says. “I really feel that Beth played an awesome role in people’s lives. There is a part of me that is sad, but there is a part of me that feels so grateful to have had it. The kids who grew up are going on to lead positive lives and many are leading very engaged Jewish lives, so a really important purpose was served.
“This funny little building has given so much to its members over the years and I feel really grateful.”
CAP: Congregation Beth Ahm is set to close its doors for good.