Northeast synagogues celebrate merger

Congregations of Shaare Shamayim and Ner Zedek celebrated their merger with a wedding ceremony.

A perfect pair: On June 4, the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim and the Congregations of Ner Zedek gathered on Verree Road. Leaders from both synagogues carried the Torahs from Ner Zedek, mingled, sung and marched down Verree Road together, dancing to Heivenu Shalom Aleichem and Hava Nagila. PHOTOS: SHAARE SHAMAYIM

By Deborah Hersh

When you think of a marriage, you usually think about two people falling in love, pledging to spend the rest of their lives together and becoming one. You don’t often think of institutions that way. But in the case of the synagogues Shaare Shamayim and Ner Zedek, that’s exactly what happened.

On June 4, a sunny Sunday morning, the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim and the Congregations of Ner Zedek gathered on Verree Road, with leaders from both synagogues carrying the Torahs from Ner Zedek, mingled, sung and marched down Verree Road together, dancing to Heivenu Shalom Aleichem and Hava Nagila.

After the procession to 9768 Verree Road, guests followed the Torahs into the sanctuary for the wedding ceremony. Just like a real marriage, the ceremony included wine and breaking of the glass under the chuppah with many of the past presidents of both synagogues representing the merger that had been finalized in December.

Both synagogues have merged with several synagogues over their long histories. Shaare Shamayim President Fran Gabriel pointed out the diversity and vibrancy that mergers bring to their congregations.

“We’re a culture of people from many other synagogues and many other places, each bringing their memories and traditions here,” he said.

“(Ner Zedek) are people who grew up with a synagogue as the centrality of their lives,” Shaare Shamayim Executive Director Jacques Lurie said. “They have brought Torah readers, people who are capable of leading. They have brought people who are volunteering in the kitchen, people who are sitting on our board. It has just been an amazing addition for the shul.”

For many, the ceremony was not just about celebration, but about preserving the traditions and legacies of both synagogues. The Ner Zedek ark, now installed in the Karff Sanctuary, carries with it the history of the congregations that came before. The ark is more than 100 years old and previously held the Torah scrolls of the Frankford Synagogue, then Adath Zion, Ner Zedek and finally Shaare Shamayim, where it will be in use for many years to come. In addition, more than 4,500 memorial plaques were brought to and installed in Shaare Shamayim’s two sanctuaries. And Ner Zedek’s beautiful Holocaust memorial in three panels is displayed in the lobby.

Sylvan Kesilman, former president of Adath Zion and member of the merger committee, said, “It signifies that the heritage of the previous synagogues can continue by being a part of this.”

For many members, the “wedding” was a celebration of a new and welcoming home and, in addition, an opportunity to enjoy that in their neighborhood.

“It means a comfortable place to come where we feel welcome, and the people are most gracious,” Rita Malenbaum said.

Shaare Shamayim has about 550 members, with about 120 families from Ner Zedek joining from the merger.

“We’re branching out our family,” Tobi Levin, merger committee chairperson and former president of Shaare Shamayim, said. “There’s not a lot of Jewish people moving into the Northeast. And if we can be the welcoming synagogue for the ones that still want to be here and have a home in the Northeast community, we’re it.” ••