The Integration of Temples Emanuel and Sinai

The congregations of Temple Sinai and Temple Emanuel have formally agreed to move forward to pursue the integration of the two synagogues into a new entity. The decision, which comes in the wake of the acknowledged difficult financial and demographic

cialis 5mg

realities in both synagogues, nonetheless promises a positive and invigorating shift in the dynamics of the Worcester Jewish community.

Rabbi Matthew Berger

“I’m very excited about the process,” says Rabbi Matthew Berger of Temple Emanuel. “We’re creating a new and positive vision for Reform Judaism in Worcester, bringing the energy of two congregations to do that while still honoring the history of them both.”

Rabbi Scott Saulson, interim rabbi at Temple Sinai, concurs. “It’s a great opening to do things more creatively, to rethink what Jewish community life can be like in Worcester,” he says. “It speaks well of the maturity of both congregations that they are thinking along these lines.”

The use of the word “integration” is deliberate and precise, avoiding the more negative connotations of “merger,” which implies the subsuming of one congregation by another.

“Temple Emanuel is not taking over Temple Sinai, and Temple Sinai is not taking over Temple Emanuel,” says Ellen Meyers, who, with Carlton Watson, is the co-president of Temple Emanuel. “We are looking to create a new congregation. That’s the point we need to keep putting out there.”

“’Integration’ makes it clear that what will happen is the creation of a new temple, a new 501C3, a new name and a new board,” says Rabbi Berger.

The immediate impetus for change came in the wake of the retirement last June of Rabbi Seth Bernstein, who had served Temple Sinai for twenty-five years. Serious financial discussions just before his departure and during the summer indicated that a drop in full dues-paying members had put the budget “on a slippery slope,” says Sinai president Gary Englander. “We went into the interim thinking that we would do a caretaker year and then hire a full-time rabbi. We looked at the financials and found we didn’t have the money to do that.”

Believing that “perhaps the time had come to think about alternatives,” the Sinai leadership opened a discussion with the co-presidents of Temple Emanuel and Joel

buy levitra

Baker, president of Congregation Beth Israel, at a dinner in late August. Temple Emanuel, which has approached Temple Sinai about the possibilities of a shared community several times in the past, has itself been operating at a budgetary and membership deficit. With a congregation of 370 families that includes a significant percentage of older congregants, the temple leadership has long been concerned about the prospects for the future.

In the aftermath of a positive conversation among the temple presidents, Sinai’s Board of Trustees determined to present three options to their congregation at large:

“We could either stay as we were; pursue the possibility of a ‘condo complex’ [shared campus] with Beth Israel and Temple Emanuel; or take a look at integration between the two reform synagogues,” says Gary Englander.

An initial congregational meeting, held on November 2, presented the alternatives and entertained discussion, followed by more discussion and a vote on December 7. That vote was heavily in favor of the third alternative: integration. Englander subsequently sent Meyers and Carlton Watson an email whose subject line read “Creating a Vibrant Community,” formally letting them know that “it is now our vision to work with Temple Emanuel to investigate and work out details that might result in completely integrating our two communities into one.” In response, the Executive Committee and the Board of Trustees at Emanuel scheduled two congregational meetings for late January and early February, one to present information and the second for a vote. In addition, the co-presidents met with Gary Englander and Sinai’s First Vice President, Bill Weiss, to clarify the details of the discussion on the table.

For the initial meeting, Meyers and Watson put together a comprehensive power point presentation that included information about demographics, membership shifts, and the budget that spelled out the serious situation in which Temple Emanuel, too, found itself. After discussions in which every question and comment was addressed, the vote on February 5 was 138-2 in favor of “grant[ing] permission and authority to the Co-Presidents to establish task groups to work with Temple Sinai to develop a plan for the creation of a new congregational entity.” (A straw vote held the previous week for those who could not attend on February 5 was 27-0 in support of the request.)

With a definitive mandate now in place in both synagogues, the process of exploration will continue through the work of joint task forces focusing on such areas as visioning, finances, worship, operations, governance and location. The presidents and rabbis of the congregations are now formulating the committees and hope to have them in place within a few weeks.

On March 25, Rabbi Scott Saulson will run and direct a conclave of the assembled task forces, introducing the members to each other and helping them begin to build relationships. The following week, Rabbi David Wolfman of the URJ will visit to discuss the process of integration and to make available the Union’s resources.

As the process unfolds, notes Gary Englander, the task forces will keep the congregants of both synagogues apprised of their discussions through regular communiqués. Ultimately, each congregation will meet separately to ratify the final blueprint for full integration. In the meantime, occasional joint services and other activities will continue, building on the successful blended service held in November at Temple Sinai and one scheduled for March 23 at Temple Emanuel. The two congregations already share a youth group, the Worcester Emanuel Sinai Temple Youth (WESTY) and use the newest prayer book of the Reform movement, Mishkan T’filah.
And, even more significant, the Temple Sinai Board has just voted unanimously to be part of the community religious school, set to open this fall, that links Temple Emanuel and Congregation Beth Israel.

For Sinai, “it was a very tough decision” made in the context of the integration to come, says Englander. “There are those who are gored – our principal, the teachers. But there has been a sea change.”

Rabbi Scott Saulson

Rabbi Saulson’s role in this interim year has not only been to serve spiritual and pastoral needs but also “to bring the realities of the situation to the wider congregation as soon as I could and get them truly thinking about ways in which to address them.” It has been similar to his professional work in mediation, where the general rule is to “stay involved and apart at the same time.” Though he will not be here to see the plans come to fruition, he is “terribly proud of these people; they’ve accomplished so much in such a short time.” Sinai will appoint a part-time rabbi for the coming year to oversee the transition.

Though difficult decisions and discussions lie ahead in the months to come, the prospect of change is invigorating. “It’s an opportunity to create something new and different that preserves our traditions,” says Ellen Meyers. “That’s the most exciting thing about this.”

Moreover, adds Rabbi Berger, “We are creating one central address for Reform Judaism in Worcester. I think it is necessary for the Jewish community to have a strong and unified Reform voice.”

By Laurie Porter

Laurie is a freelance writer who lives in Worcester with her husband and two children.

1 Comment

  • Cantor Wendy Autenrieth

    Chazak chazak v’nitchazek. May you all go from strength to strength as you proceed. I was the first Cantor/Educator of Temple Sinai from 1987 – 1999. My son Jeff and his family are in Worcester so this, of course has an impact on me in many ways. This is not a new idea but, at this point, perhaps, a necessary move on the part of the members of both synagogues. I wish them luck as they figure it all out.

    Cantor Wendy Autenrieth

Leave a Reply

In this Issue

  • Editorial The View from a Wheelchair

    The View from a Wheelchair

    As a geriatric care manager for more than three decades, I’ve spent thousands of hours helping my clients cope with a wide range of mobility challenges—ensuring they have safe homes and systems in place that enable them to remain independent and well cared for. But nothing brings home the reality of what so many with physical disabilities face than finding yourself unable to walk. This has been my struggle for the past month, ever since I stumbled, fell, and broke my right ankle. As a busy professional, volunteer, wife and mother, I have found it extraordinarily frustrating (not to mention […]

    Read more →
  • News How to Celebrate Thanksgivukkah, the Best Holiday of All Time

    How to Celebrate Thanksgivukkah, the Best Holiday of All Time

    This holiday won’t happen again for 70,000 years. So celebrate to the max: Manischewitz-brined turkey, pecan pie rugelach, a cornucopia of gelt, and lots more. MANISCHEWITZ-BRINED ROAST TURKEY Serves 14-16 INGREDIENTS Brine: 6 quarts (24 cups) water, divided 1 ½ cups kosher salt 3 tablespoons caraway seeds 1 tablespoon fennel seeds 1 tablespoon mustard seeds 10 cloves garlic, crushed 5 sprigs rosemary 10 sprigs thyme 4 lemons, halved 4 oranges, halved 3 750-mL bottles Manischewitz Concord Grape wine Turkey: 1 18 to 20-lb turkey 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) , at room temp Special Equipment 5-gallon container (a large […]

    Read more →
  • Upcoming Torathon…and beyond

    Torathon…and beyond

    TORATHON …and beyond Saturday, November 16, 2013, 5:30 pm – 9:40 pm (refreshments to follow) at Congregation Beth Israel, 15 Jamesbury Street, Worcester. Join us for our annual “Journey into Jewish Life and Learning” offering 36 classes of text studies, discussions, and “How to” workshops featuring the areas distinguished rabbis, cantors, educator and community leaders, plus…teen programs, refreshments and more!  Advance tickets  are $18.00; at the door $23.00; Students (HS and College) $5.00 in advance/$10.00 at door.  Order tickets online at  or at your local Central Mass syngaogue.

    Read more →
  • Editorial Cotton Leadership for Young Adults

    Cotton Leadership for Young Adults

    “Young Jews should be educated in a way that allows them to articulate their Judaism in a positive way in terms of what they do believe instead of describing themselves by what they don’t believe. Then perhaps they will feel like they and their children are part of the community instead of separate from it.” -Jewish Daily Forward (in a response to the recent Pew Study). The late Harold Cotton, Past President of Federation and Philanthropist, had the foresight to know that community building and education would be the necessary tools to preserve the Jewish community’s foundation in Central Mass.  […]

    Read more →
  • News Spotlight on: *PJ Library Releases Hometown grown “Josh and the Jamtones”  New Music CD

    Spotlight on: *PJ Library Releases Hometown grown “Josh and the Jamtones” New Music CD

    Sometimes timing is truly magical.  When I decided to write a spotlight on native Worcesterite  and musician Josh Shriber, turns out that he and his band, ‘Josh and the Jamtones’, are going to be the featured artists on  PJ Library’s annual CD for kids 3-4 years old nationwide in December (December also marks Central Mass’ 5th anniversary of having the PJ Library program in our community). Each year, PJ Library selects one CD for each age grouping to send out to readers in lieu of a book which is sent the other 11 months of the year.  Additionally, his band […]

    Read more →
  • News Pardes Up and Kickin’ in its Second Year

    Pardes Up and Kickin’ in its Second Year

    After months of planning, on Wednesday October 2, Pardes welcomed students to its  second year in existence as Worcester’s Community Religious School. It was wonderful to see everyone’s happy faces and excitement as they met with their teachers and friends. With nearly 4 weeks of school already under our belt, we are in a sound routine for learning and success. I know that with the all the teachers’ guidance and support, the Pardes students will be able to strengthen their identities as Jews, their connection to the Jewish people world-wide, and their connection to the state of Israel. I also […]

    Read more →
  • Editorial Being a Jew of Choice

    Being a Jew of Choice

    The PEW Research Center published a study this month, A Portrait of Jewish America.  And like most Jews, I was fascinated, alarmed and proud by what it said. When I first made the decision to formally convert to Judaism, one issue that I really worried about was how to convert; Orthodox, Conservative or Reform.  One of the deciding factors behind my decision was that I was raising Jewish children and technically, according to Jewish law as interpreted by my Conservative rabbi, they weren’t Jewish.  We had “synagogue shopped,” like a lot of young families, and the one that we loved […]

    Read more →
  • Features 4 Things To Do About Pew Survey Findings on #JewishAmerica

    4 Things To Do About Pew Survey Findings on #JewishAmerica

    The Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans” has triggered much debate in the Jewish community. Its key findings — that younger Jews are not only less connected to, but are also less interested in, Jewish life — puts in sharp relief the challenge before us. If we go by numbers alone, the non-Orthodox American Jewish community is facing an existential crisis. The study clearly demonstrates that we stand at an urgent crossroads for American Jewry, and presents us with a major opportunity. Our communal leadership must seize upon it with renewed vigor and focus. It is time to intensify […]

    Read more →