After a trying year, Sharon's Temple Israel stronger than ever

September 24, 2014; edited
By Bram S. Berkowitz
Special to the Advocate

Temple Israel thrives after stormy year. [Photo: instagram/TISharonMA]

Temple Israel thrives after stormy year.
[Photo: instagram/TISharonMA]

Rosh Hashanah is a special time of the year for the Jewish community. It is a time for new beginnings, for family, and most importantly, a time to push forward setting new goals and plans for the upcoming year.

At Temple Israel in Sharon, one of the strongest Jewish communities in Massachusetts, the atmosphere is as demonstrative as ever of the great holiday. Apples are being dipped in honey; the harmonious sounds of the shofar are heard booming through the halls; and more than ever, the congregation is excited for the future of their beloved temple.

The past year has been different in many respects. But most of all, the congregation has been mourning the loss of their Rabbi and dear friend, Barry Starr, whose sudden resignation in May after 28 years astonished the community.

However, after a few difficult months, Temple Israel goes in to the [High Holiday] season stronger than ever, and despite the controversy, no one in the congregation is surprised.

"The temple is a lovely and close-knit community in the first place. Everyone supports each other on a day-to-day basis," said Shelly Keimach, a member of the temple for three years. Ripples of the same positivity can be heard throughout the congregation. Everyone feels really good about the community's reaction to the controversy, and believes the temple had a productive summer.

"The members of the congregation took the right approach in coming together, and have had really great attitudes in moving forward," said Senior Interim Rabbi Leslie Gordon. "The professional staff members have all been working beyond their typical job expectations to insure a smooth transition. The lay leadership is very strong and has been attentive to the needs of the congregants. I am honored to be part of the transition team."

But it is not just the spiritual and emotional strength of Temple Israel's congregation that is so resilient; business is also doing quite well.

"Difficult periods of time bring people together. People are [enthusiastic] about the future," said Arnie Freedman, president of the congregation. And people really have every reason to take Freedman's words to heart.

According to executive director [Benjamin] Maron, in the last few months, Temple Israel has had 40 new families join. 160 kids are currently participating in the Hebrew school and turnout for the High Holiday services are expected to be just as strong as in previous years.

The temple is also continuing to grow and support its community. A new after school adventure program has been started, which helps accommodate younger families who need after school care for their children.

In addition, Temple Israel has recently partnered with a small Jewish day school called Ner Tamid, their speaker series is set to kick off soon, and their Brotherhood program is one of the most active in the country.

One might wonder how a temple dealing with such pain four months ago could be where it is currently, but Paul Davidson, an active member of the congregation and new head of the temple's keruv (outreach) committee, said the leadership at the temple is the main reason for the success. "It is one of the deepest benches of professional talent you can find. President Arnie Freedman was the perfect person to lead and having interim Rabbi Leslie Gordon step up was huge. It was very, very important to put in someone like Gordon who people know, and who has a great track record with our shul, and with the Jewish community."

People from the congregation and temple leadership had nothing but the best to say about Gordon, and the other contributing members like [Rabbi] Ed Gelb, who took on the responsibilities that needed filling after Rabbi Starr's departure.

According to Davidson, during the first Bar Mitzvah service without Rabbi Starr, Rabbi Gordon gave a d'var Torah that blew people away. It discussed the importance of understanding that G-d leads people to places that are not always easy to be in, but to also recognize that you can carry on.

Temple Israel has done much more than just carry on though; they have succeeded expectations and have taught Jewish communities all over the country an unforgettable lesson: a unified congregation and a strong community is much more than just one person.