The Conservative Jewish Community of Durham marked the end of an era this past Sunday as we gathered at Beth El synagogue one last time to say goodbye to the old sanctuary, before it undergoes a massive renovation.
Beth El Synagogue moves
story by: Josh Factor
The event, entitled “L’hitraot to our Sanctuary” or “Farewell, we’ll see you again” featured a text study with Steve Sager, the Rabbi emeritus at Beth El, four stories of Beth El as told by Kevin Ginsberg, Sabina Sager, Krisha Miller, and Barry Yeoman, and a community ceremony and procession with Noah Pickus, the President of Beth El, and the current Rabbi, Daniel Greyber.
As someone who grew up and was Bar Mitzvahed in this community, it was a bittersweet moment. While it clearly is nice that the building will be getting a revamp and modernization, I will miss the old look of the sanctuary and all the memories associated with it. Beth El has been planning on renovating since January of 2014. The renovations were funded by the members of the congregation as part of the capital campaign which features the motto, “Our story, our time.”
When Rabbi Greyber first took over from Rabbi Sager over five years ago, he noted the building could use some updates. The Ark (holding the Torahs) was not facing east as per tradition. This is one of the things that will be rectified as part of the renovations. Other upgrades to the site and the building will include an elevator, additional vestibules, and a prayer garden. The synagogue has never undergone a refurbishment since its inception in 1957.
Before they bid farewell to the old shul, Rabbi Sager gave a talk about aspects of the Torah that relate to the renovations and times of change. Rabbi Greyber led the congregation in a prayer for peace before taking the Torahs out of the Ark.
The Torah procession took the Beth El community from the Beth El Synagogue on Markham Avenue to the Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church just a few blocks south. The church is generously donating the use of its Fellowship Hall where the congregation of Beth El will be gathering for services until such time as the renovations are complete. The construction is expected to last two years.
As the Jewish community entered the Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church, we received a warm reception from Reverend Katie Crowe, as well as members of the Church. As planned Rabbi Greyber affixed a mezuzah to the door of Fellowship Hall, the Jewish custom for a synagogue. He had made mention in his sermon earlier in the week, with a touch of awe and wonder, that we should recognize the blessing of living in age where this kind of welcome might be extended between two religious communities. It is a great day for tolerance and mutual understanding when one community encourages the other to place its religious symbols and medallions in their temporary home to offer comfort and hospitality.
Both Rabbi Greyber and Reverend Crowe had a few words to say before members of both congregations gathered together in Fellowship Hall for a communal lunch to mark the momentous occasion. The Rabbi expressed his gratitude to the Trinity Avenue Presbyterian community for allowing the Beth El community to use their space during this transition period. He also extended an invitation to the Trinity Avenue Presbyterian members, they’re welcome to sit in on Jewish Shabbat services anytime they would like. The Reverend expressed how excited she was to host the Jewish community while our building is being renovated. This was followed by both communities saying a prayer before lunch.
There was high emotion, joy and pride, as the two communities broke bread and became more acquainted with each other. While our Jewish community is certainly going to miss having its own space, it is heartwarming to know we not only have a beautiful space to use during this period of change, but also exemplary and accommodating hosts.
Seeing the two communities intermingle serves as great reminder of what we can accomplish when we put aside our differences. We dwell in the same space. I wish the Beth El community and the Trinity Avenue Presbyterian congregation the best of luck during this time of transition and hope this will serve as a sign of more interfaith cooperation to come in Durham, in America, and across the world.