Anniversary events take place April 17-19
In 1865, a group of 20 Jewish men joined together to form the Akron Hebrew Association. Their mission was this: to give Reform Jews in Akron a place to worship, socialize and educate children in their faith.
Worship and meetings took place in a single room on Howard Street. From these humble beginnings, a congregation was formed, and while perhaps they didn’t realize it at the time, history was being made. From the beginning, congregants were encouraged to become involved and inclusive, and to engage in social action and outreach in the community.
By 1885, the congregation had purchased its first synagogue, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on High Street. In 1911, as their faith community continued to grow, the synagogue on Merriman Road was built Previously known as the Akron Hebrew Congregation, the name selected for the new synagogue was Temple Israel.
In 1920, Temple Israel continued to make history by adopting a new constitution that gave women full membership and an equal voice in the Temple. A series of strong, progressive rabbinic leaders continued to expand the scope of Temple Israel’s programming and interfaith community involvement.
Over the years, participation grew and the Merriman Road building was twice expanded to accommodate that growth. During these years, Temple Israel developed and strengthened programs that continue to this day. One of those programs is The Sisterhood, a women’s group that initiates and supports many of the Temple’s efforts. The Brotherhood is a men’s group that serves the Temple in many ways, primarily in support of education, fundraising and worship. Quality, engaging religious education for children and adults has been and continues to be an important part of life at Temple Israel, including a strong program of service, learning and fellowship for teens. The success of the youth education and fellowship program is reflected in the remarkable number of former students who grew up attending Temple Israel and later became Rabbis.
Eventually, as the building aged and Akron’s population fluctuated, the Temple’s membership had a decision to make. The building required costly repairs and maintenance, and while the Temple continued to operate as a vital, strong faith community, there were fewer congregants to share the expenses of the historic Merriman Road building.
Under the leadership of Temple President Ron Winer, Temple Israel weighed the options and made the decision that would best secure its future. There was the matter of raising $7 million, but, as Winer said, “We moved forward because it’s what faith is, right?”
With faith and hard work, the money was raised and a new building was erected on Springside Drive in Montrose. The Temple’s nine Torah scrolls were walked from the Merriman Road building to the new Temple, and on Sept. 28, 2014, a dedication ceremony was held. Five days later they observed Yom Kippur in their new home.
150 years of faith, fellowship, service
Once again Temple Israel members have much to celebrate as they mark 150 years of faith, family, friendship, inclusion and service in Akron. The anniversary celebration will take place April 17, 18 and 19, and is being organized by a team of dedicated volunteers led by committee chair Laura Lee Garfinkel. On a recent morning, Garfinkel, whose family has been at Temple Israel since they moved to Akron in 1962, enthusiastically shared the details of the weekend’s scheduled events and offered a guided tour of the congregation’s new Temple building.
Outside of the building hangs a beautiful Don Drumm sculpture of a mezuzah, which literally means doorpost and in the Jewish faith is a case containing a scroll with passages of scripture written on it that is to be attached to a house’s doorpost. Upon entering the Temple, Garfinkel led the way through hallways lined with beautiful Judaic art. Volunteers Sarah Lubash and Judy Lasher have been working furiously to assemble the many displays scattered throughout the building of photographs depicting the congregation’s rich history for all current and past members of Temple Israel to enjoy.
After passing through the sunny, colorful education wing, the sanctuary, and the library, we settled at a table in the fellowship space to talk about that history, as well as the tradition and commitment to community that have survived and thrived for 150 years at Temple Israel.
“I am most looking forward to all being together to celebrate what has been accomplished,” Garfinkel shared. “We are especially excited about the fact that nine people who grew up in our congregation became Rabbis.” Six of those nine Rabbis will be on hand for the festivities: Rabbi Allen Bennett, Rabbi Jeffery Foust, Rabbi David Komerofsky, Rabbi Aaron Koplin, Rabbi Evette Lutman, and Rabbi Adrienne Pollock Scott. Rabbi Sigma (Sissy) Coran and Rabbi Hazzan Adalah Adraine Caplowe will be unable to attend. The congregation will pay tribute to Rabbi Howard Folb’s memory.
While her enthusiasm and devotion to the Temple are inspiring, Garfinkel is quick to point out that she is one of many who are working to create a meaningful experience for all who participate in the anniversary celebration. She wants to emphasize the attention to history and detail that all on the planning committee incorporate into their work.
Both Garfinkel and Winer expressed that though the history of the Temple’s past is important, what they are more excited about is the direction Temple Israel is taking into the future. “Social action is a big part of what we do. Interfaith community involvement has always important to our congregation,” Winer commented. “We work with other religious groups on things like Mitzvah Day, where we go out into the community together and help at places like the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.”
Temple Israel is located at 91 Springside Dr. The telephone number is (330) 762-8617. Although tickets for the dinner are sold out, the rest of the weekend’s activities are open to the public and, as always, all are welcome.
The anniversary schedule is as follows:
Friday, April 17:
7:30 pm: Shabbat service led by Rabbi Robert Feinberg and Rabbi alumni of Temple Israel followed by a special Oneg Shabbat
Saturday, April 18:
9:30 am: Shabbat morning service
10:30 am: Open forum discussion with visiting Rabbis “How Temple Israel inspired me to become a Rabbi” moderated by Rabbi David Horowitz
6:30 pm: Havdalah service, cocktail hour, gala dinner with entertainment by Indiana Hooshir, a popular, award-winning Jewish a cappella choir from Indiana University
Sunday April 19:
10:00 am: Religious school students meet former students who are now Rabbis and Indiana Hooshir a cappella choir performs