A Unity Shabbat was held Friday night at Congregation Rodef Sholom in Youngstown to celebrate the coming together of their congregation and those from Temple Beth Israel in Sharon.
The merger creates the largest Jewish house of worship in the area, with 90 family units from Sharon being combined with 275 family units in Youngstown, where the merged congregation will be housed. The merged congregation will be led by Rabbi Franklin Muller, who has been the spiritual leader at Rodef Sholom for the past 18 years.
He said the merger, which has been in the works for the past five years, was proposed by members of Temple Beth Israel in Sharon because of their dwindling numbers.
“It took a lot of courage and forthright decision making to realize that rather be in a sinking ship, we need to do something proactive. So I applaud the Sharon congregation for having that kind of courage to approach us, to begin a process of services and programs so we can get to know each other,” Rabbi Muller said.
Friday’s ceremony featured a special Torah passing ceremony around the main sanctuary using scared scrolls from both congregations, symbolizing the new merged organizations.
“It symbolized not only an acceptance of the merger, but also an embracing of the concept of coming together as one community,” Rabbi Muller said. “It worked beautifully and it was a very powerful experience for all those involved.”
One of the eight Sharon scrolls will be permanently placed in the sanctuary for regular use during the weekly liturgy and additional sacred objects and pieces of art from Sharon will be permanently placed throughout the Rodef Sholom building.
Muller said the area’s Jewish population is dropping, which reflects a decrease in the population overall. He said when he came to Rodef Sholom 18 years ago, it had nearly 500 families. He attributes the decline to aging members and population shifts.
Muller said the merger was agreeable to both congregations and there was no hard feelings throughout the process.
“This should be the model for all mergers, not just for synagogues, but any type of religious institution,” he said.
He also said the merger was a win-win because it enabled members from Sharon to join a larger congregation and keep the Jewish faith alive in the Shenango Valley, while injecting new life and enthusiasm into Rodef Sholom. Muller said attendance at weekly services has nearly doubled since the merger began.