Ohev Sholom Synagogue History: Part IV

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Synagogue's History Many thanks to Michael Muderick, CongOhev@ICDC.Com, Executive Director of Congregation Ohev Shalom for making the following history available to us from the Ohev Sholom Synagogue Dedication Book prepared in 1965.  The history was written by Enid Mark & Evelyn Epstein

Introduction
Beginnings
Period of Growth
Consolidation, Problems and Progress
New Directions

New Directions

Even in the grand, final ending to our story, an ending which hopefully is but a new beginning, we can see our actions as a reflection of the grand panorama of modern Jewish existence.

The Second World War, the loss of 6,000,000 European Jews, the frenzied fund-raising activities which ensued, the birth of the State of Israel, the move to "suburbia" after 1950 - all resulted in our vigorous re-identification with Judaism, and the synagogue. The United Synagogue of America notes that the number of Conservative congregations alone increased from 250 in 1937 to 500 by 1956, the number of affiliated families from 75,000 to 2,000,000 during this same time. It goes without saying that new congregations must create new synagogue buildings, and old congregations with larger memberships need to rebuild their houses.

In Chester our synagogue activities grew more numerous, our membership larger, our interests wider in scope. In Chester, as everywhere else, our membership moved toward the suburbs. The Eighth and Welsh Street location, so beautifully planned for use in 1927, was inconvenient and outmoded by the mid-fifties. Our elders needed to climb three flights of stairs to reach the sanctuary. Many of our children were crowded into basement classrooms. The swimming pool was closed. Space was too little, necessary repair work too great, parking for automobiles impossible. We needed a new building.

In October 1957 a small group of persons decided that they would contribute money and encourage others to contribute money in order to raise $25,000 for the purchase of a 3 1/2 acre site for such a building on Providence and Chester Roads in Nether Providence. This was done, and in November the ground was secured and presented by Dr. Benjamin Balin to the congregation as a gift from 102 Ground Fund Donors.

Now the action was swift and decisive. M. J. Freed, long a leading citizen of the Jewish community, and a past-president of the Board of Directors of Ohev Sholom, accepted chairmanship of the Building Fund Committee. Dr. Benjamin Balin, Alex Brown, Louis Dallett, and Samuel Warwick were appointed vice-chairmen. Mrs. Benjamin (Sally) Balin, Leon Gordon, Jack Swerman, and Alan Swimmer were also on the Executive Committee. Albert Blumberg, Esq., served as legal counsel.

There was so much work to do! What an impossible task it seemed! Never before had there been such a concentration of effort on the part of so many people. Professional fund-raisers, the Milton Hood Ward organization, were hired; a brochure was printed to facilitate solicitation. The campaign was truly under way.

These were days and nights and weeks of talk and planning, of elation and disappointment. Telephone calls arranged appointments. Everyone in the community had to be visited by pairs of solicitors, and be encouraged to pledge money to be paid over a five-year period for the new Ohev Sholom. No man was permitted to solicit until he himself had pledged a sum to the new building. Campaign headquarters buzzed with excitement when an unexpected donation was pledged, and was quiet with dismay when a pledge was refused. Six nights a week, into the late hours, enthusiastic workers described the dream of a new building to the dubious. When they failed to gain an adequate pledge, the family was revisited until the contagion of success was passed on.

The Executive Committee put in untold hours of work and effort, but they were aided by many men. Among the most active solicitors were: Jack Beck, Aaron Brown, Henry Brown, Dr. Sidney Diamond, Murray Eckell, Steven Feinberg, Marvin Freed, Samuel Friedman, Joseph Gold, Joseph Goldstein, Louis Goldstein, Dr. Joseph Ivins, Albert Knopf, Abraham Lachman, Rainer Laub, Larry Lax, Donald Levenstein, Sidney Levenstein, Dr. Simon Levin, Morris Mailman, Eugene Mark, Dr. Richard Morris, Ralph Paul, Albert Oppenheim, Dr. Frank Rosenberg, Melvin Rudman, Irving Savits, Abe Seidman, Harry Shooster, Nelson Silberman, Harold Sitkoff, Norman Snyder, Dr. Jerome Smith, Dr. Larry Starer, Maurice Swimmer, Edward Tabak, Dr. Harry Tarnoff, Samuel Tollen, Sidney Ulan, Paul Wachs, William Wolf, and Joseph Zommick. And every evening, after the last visit was made, these men would telephone and ask, "How much money was raised tonight?"

By November 1960 the original goal of $500,000 in pledges had been exceeded by $8,400. A huge Victory Dance was held on December 4 in our auditorium. The entire congregation was invited to rejoice at the success of the campaign. At that dance, the Building Fund Committee, realizing that even $508,400 would not suffice for the structure Ohev Sholom required, announced a new goal of $750,000.

The Building Fund Committee began to seriously investigate the requirements of a new synagogue building. A fact-finding group - consisting of M. J. Freed, Dr. Simon Levin, Dr. and Mrs. Balin, Rainer Laub, and Jack Swerman - was appointed. Now began the task of visiting other new synagogue buildings to determine their successes and problems and to gain new ideas. Teams of men and women, headed by captains, were named. Each person on a team had a specific area to investigate - kitchens, social balls, sanctuary, school, maintenance. Every Sunday morning for a month these groups met for a quick cup of coffee and then a ride to Philadelphia, Haddonfield, Vineland, Wilmington, in search of information. Every person in the community was inspired by the work and hours donated by these workers.

News of large pledges gave impetus when things went slowly. The Sisterhood made the largest single pledge to the new building - $30,000. In order to raise the money for this pledge, the women decided to once again hold a Bazaar, this time on the site of the proposed new building, and named the event a Holiday Fair, because it would be held on Memorial Day. The first two fairs, under the chairmanship of Mrs. Harry (Norma) Tarnoff, Mrs. Eugene (Enid) Mark, and Mrs. Morton (Elsa) Wachs, raised close to $10,000. Due to the progress of actual construction, the ground was not available for a fair in May of 1964, so a "Starlight Dinner" was held at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Larry Starer, under the chairmanship of Mrs. Richard (Cecily) Morris, Mrs. Rainer (Isabelle) Laub, and Mrs. Jack (Esther) Swerman. Sisterhood was fulfilling its pledge.

A Ground Dedication program was held on May 30, 1961, (the date of the first Holiday Fair) under the chairmanship of Rainer Laub, then president of the congregation. Rabbi Louis Kaplan, who had just answered a call to become spiritual leader of Ohev Sholom, addressed the membership for the first time on this historic occasion.

On June 24, 1961, Percival Goodman, architect, was awarded a contract to design the building. When he submitted plans it was determined that the property adjacent to the new site should be acquired. This was done at the cost of $42,000.

Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on June 30, 1963. Chairman of the day was William J. Wolf, who was awarded this honor in recognition of his extraordinary help to the synagogue Building Campaign. His efforts on behalf of Ohev Sholom were also recognized when he was given an honorary life-membership in the congregation. At the ground-breaking ceremonies, Pennsylvania's Governor William W. Scranton delivered the main address to a huge audience of congregants and guests.

The contract for building the synagogue was awarded to Fleming Construction Company in September 1963. The builders and the Building Committee promised that the structure would be ready for High Holy Day services in 1964. Work began, and everyone watched the edifice rise. Although the building was incomplete by late August, Mr. Fleming and the Building Fund Committee kept their promise. There were no doors on the sanctuary, wood shavings and dust were visible elsewhere, and a standby electrician was on hand. But the congregation worshipped in its new sanctuary in September 1964!

Finally, on Thursday, January 28, 1965, Ohev Sholom moved into its new home!

The Dedication Weekend of March 13-15, 1965, was attended by the largest crowd ever gathered in Delaware County for such an affair. General Chairman for the weekend, Dr. Benjamin Balin, greeted worshippers at the Sabbath service held on Friday evening, at which time the Sanctuary was dedicated. On Sabbath morning, many adults and children attended the worship service and the School Wing dedication. Saturday evening the new Auditorium was the scene of a Dedication Ball, under the chairmanship of Dr. Jerome Smith. That Ball truly rivaled the magnificent festivities of earlier years. On Sunday morning the Cornerstone Ceremony was directed by Harry Shooster.

Sunday afternoon, March 15, the Building Dedication Service and Community Open House were held. The main address was given by Dr. Elazar Goelman, Dean of Gratz College. M. J. Freed, chairman of the Building Fund Committee, presented the keys to the new synagogue to Louis Dallett, president of the congregation. After his opening remarks, Mr. Dallett made special presentations to four persons for their tireless efforts made on behalf of the new synagogue. Those so honored were: M. J. Freed; Jack Swerman, chairman of the Architect's Committee; Alex Brown, a vice-chairman of the Building Fund Committee; and Mrs. Balin, executive secretary of the Building Fund Committee. Mrs. Balin, the only woman so honored, had given more volunteer hours than any other congregant to the fulfillment of our dream of a new Ohev Sholom.

This Sunday program, the culmination of years of work, was attended by more than 700 people. The day was a highlight in the history of Chester Jewry and Ohev Sholom.

As Ohev Sholom strives for better tomorrows in a new building at 2 Chester Road, our spiritual leader is Rabbi Louis Kaplan. Holder of Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Teacher of Hebrew diploma f rom Gratz College, he was ordained at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and has done additional Jewish graduate work at Dropsie College. He came to Ohev Sholom in August 1961.

Rabbi Kaplan has proven to be a dynamic teacher and speaker, and the kind of person who can communicate with children and adults. In addition to fulfilling the varied tasks expected of a modern rabbi, he has been responsible for a number of "firsts" at Ohev Sholom: the initiation of a two-year Post Confirmation Department in our school, the first graduation exercise from which took place in June 1965; the sending of at least one student yearly to the Conservative-movement's Hebrew-speaking Camp Ramah (Louis Baer attended the camp during the summer of 1964 as our first Ramah pupil); a college-contact program, which includes the Yom Kippur afternoon open discussion in the synagogue; a very successful schedule of adult education classes on Monday nights and Wednesday mornings, plus a four-session summer discussion group; an every-issue "Rabbi's Corner" article in the Ohev Sholom Bulletin. Two other very important achievements these last few years - for which Rabbi Kaplan, Principal Twersky, our teachers, and School Committee deserve much credit - are the initiation of the three-sessions-weekly Hebrew School and that more than 75% of our Hebrew School children now remain in our school through Confirmation!

Having mentioned our Principal, David Twersky, it should be noted that he is the senior member - in terms of service at Ohev Sholom - on our professional staff. He has served our congregation in varying positions from 1951-1955 and from 1958 to the present. A graduate of Yesiva University's Teacher's Institute and Brooklyn College, he furthered his studies in Israel. Enjoying good rapport with the faculty, Mr. Twersky has successfully encouraged our teachers to continue Jewish studies at Gratz College's in-service courses. As director of the Junior Congregation he has taught the children some very lively prayer melodies, and their singing has enhanced many a Saturday morning service. Our United Synagogue Youth group, which was formed in the fall of 1961 and whose early adviser was Mrs. Abe (Ruth) Saewitz, has been guided over the years by Mr. Twersky and Rabbi Kaplan.

Our school, which is growing in numbers and quality, lost one of its most distinguished teachers when Miss Leah Bloom - who had been honored for two successive years at the Yom Hamoreh (Teacher's Day) Sabbath - retired in June 1964.

The leadership of Rabbi Kaplan, Cantor Garfinkel, and Principal Twersky has been matched by equally strong lay leadership. Immediate past president, Rainer Laub, who was Ohev Sholom's first delegate at a national convention of the United Synagogue of America, encouraged Ohev Sholom to come more in line with national Conservative practices in our school, religious services, and in other areas of our synagogue's work. Louis Dallett, our current president, has continued this concern and has invited wide participation on all projects and committees, matching the talents of individuals to the necessary tasks at hand. He has stressed that our sanctuary must be a sanctuary for ALL people, that we must identify ourselves with the synagogue's aims and activities so that being Jewish will make a real difference in our lives. Open to everything which will help make better Jews, Ohev Sholom - under its professional and lay leadership - looks forward to new opportunities to serve the Jews of Greater Chester as a meaningful and creative house of study, worship, and fellowship.

This, then, is our history. But the bare recital of facts leaves out a great deal of the heart of our past. Facts do not reveal the record of how many tears have been shed and how much hope and encouragement have been received. Facts do not pay tribute to people molded or changed or comforted because of Ohev Sholom, to friendships enjoyed, to the love and concern of one human being for another. Facts do not tell of despair, anger, joy, song, laughter ... All these things, too, are interwoven with the dates and events of our history. And all these things will, hopefully, be part of the fabric of the future, a future which we shall try to make a re-affirmation and extension of our past.

"Happy are we; how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage." - Prayerbook

"A people's memory is history; and as a man without a memory, so a people without a history, cannot grow wiser, better." - Isaac L. Peretz

"The strength of Judaism consists in this, that as one period of history comes to an end, another begins ... and the result is continuous progress" - Nachman Krochmal

Enid Mark
Evelyn Epstein

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2001 John A. Bullock III.

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This page last updated 02/24/07