Two synagogues merged as one in the Mahoning Valley Friday evening.
A Unity Shabbat was held at Congregation Rodef Sholom in Youngstown to celebrate the coming together of their congregation and those from Temple Beth Israel in Sharon. A special service was held to symbolize the merger during which sacred scrolls were passed around the sanctuary as a display of unity.
“It’s not like we’re strangers at all and a lot of the people from Youngstown and our congregation also have ties to the Sharon community too, so there’s a lot of interconnection,” said Rabbi Franklin Muller from Rodef Sholom.
Congregation Rodef Sholom will house the merged congregation, and with the addition of members from Temple Beth Israel, make up the largest Jewish house of worship in the Valley. There are 90 family units from Sharon being added to the existing 275 family units in Youngstown.
Members first broke bread together as part of the Unity Shabbat then headed to the sanctuary for a special ceremony. The new congregation hung the Mezuzah, a symbol of the Jewish home, and blessed the art from Sharon, which is spread throughout the building.
“I applaud their courage and conviction to do this so they could continue their fullest sense of Jewish identity here with us,” Muller said. “They’re going to look back and remember the happy times they had at their temple.”
It was a welcoming gesture that members from Temple Beth Israel appreciated.
“By bringing the two congregations together, I think both of our congregations have really been reinvigorated,” said Temple Beth Israel member Stanley Bard.
Families then came together in the sanctuary to pass around a Torah from each temple as a way to symbolize their new unity.
“Everyone can touch one Torah from Beth Israel and one Torah from Rodef Sholom to symbolize not only the acceptance of this merger but an embracing of it and an embracing of each other,” Muller said.
Members said the decision to leave Temple Beth Israel wasn’t easy, but an ongoing relationship for several years between the two congregations made it better.
“People over the last four years have gotten to know each other, so we’re not coming in among strangers so it was really as if this was the marriage that culminated the courtship,” Bard said.
The merger has been in the works for five years.