Back to the Future
Nov 15th 2015

What can a synagogue community be? 

The film Back to the Future was set in 1955 and imagined events of 2015. As Beth Tzedec celebrates its 60th anniversary as a congregation (our roots actually go back to the 1890s with our founding kehillot of Beth Midrash Hagadol and Goel Tzedec), it is appropriate to reflect on what our Synagogue has been in the past, where we are today and what we can be in the future. 

At our Simẖat Torah luncheon, our H̱attan Torah, Jeff Perlmutter, spoke of the impact of Beth Tzedec which “has played a central role in my life ever since I was a child. I had my bar mitzvah here. After Joanne and I got married and soon had our own children, all three of our boys had their b’nei mitzvah here. Beth Tzedec had been a destination for me for Shabbat and ẖaggim services my entire life. It is here, where I became intimately familiar with Jewish life, Jewish values and Jewish rituals. It is here, at Beth Tzedec, where I first experienced the beauty of prayer and the camaraderie of participating in a minyan.” 

At the bar mitzvah brunch for their son, Cathy Weinberg and Todd Beallor referred to the historic and contemporary connection of their families with the Synagogue. Cathy welcomed Rabbi Friedberg, noting that he “officiated at both Todd’s and my bar and bat mitzvah and now is with us to celebrate at Mitchell’s bar mitzvah.” After noting how masterfully his son had led Shaẖarit and read Torah, Todd added, “From the time you were a toddler, I would bring you on Shabbat morning and you would march me right up to the front row so you could see and hear everything that was happening. This Congregation has been a part of our lives and our families’ [lives] for generations and we hope it will continue to be a part of your life.” 

Cheryl Rosenthal, honoured as our Kallat Bereisheet, also addressed her relationship with Beth Tzedec: “My involvement began the year the shul opened. Our family moved here from the McCaul Street Shul. My dad, Hy Cooper, alav hashalom, became involved and had just become president of the Men’s Club when he died suddenly at age 52. I began attending our Congregational School in kindergarten and continued, four days a week, until confirmation at age 16. Cantor Morris Sobermanz”l made me learn his trop, giving me the ability to read Torah and chant haftarot, and instilling in me the life-long love of doing so. 

“My parents brought me to shul every Shabbat, and from an early age, I was a regular in Junior Congregation. Years later, we brought our two sons and now we bring our grandchildren. Most of my life, both good and bad, has been tied to Beth Tzedec, from my bat mitzvah and Sweet 16 to our wedding, the bar mitzvahs and weddings of our children and the baby naming of our granddaughter. Everything has taken place here, [including] my parents’ funerals and those of my grandmother and my beloved aunt Sally Grossman. 

“My husband Hersh is a past president of the Men’s Club, responsible for Yom Hashoah candles and chairman of its Scholarship Fund, so graciously named after my dad. We volunteer to usher on yontif and for community and shul events. I still love to read Torah or chant a haftarah. This is my shul. Every time I walk into this building, the spirits of my parents envelop me.” 

These testimonies tell the story of a long-standing and steady effort to provide meaning to the personal lives of our members. At both high and low points over many years, we seek to enable people to bring spiritual significance to their existential struggles.

Judaism is not a do-it-yourself religion. Even as it supports a personal search for meaning, much of Jewish life depends on joining with others for prayer and kashrut, Shabbat connections and sacred celebrations. A virtual community is no substitute for a compelling kehillah. A 24-7 congregation offers much more than a pop-up High Holiday or an occasional Shabbat service. 

From a rabbinic perspective, a synagogue should be proud of its history, but must have a passionately held vision about the meaning and future of Jewish life. Your rabbis believe that Conservative Judaism provides a dynamic, authentic and meaningful expression of Jewish life, and that Beth Tzedec provides a vibrant community of commitment for personal growth and involvement with others. 

We want to inspire people to bring the energy and ideas of our synagogue into the realm of their personal and family life, to transform our city and society. There are very few congregations that are so ambitious, that strive to accomplish what we seek to achieve throughout the year.