Members of Congregation Beth Shalom and Agudath Israel Congregation are no longer referring to their soon-to-be amalgamated congregation as the “New Shul.” They have chosen Kehillat Beth Israel as the name for the congregation that will officially begin to operate this summer.
Jane Ehrenworth Shore and Judah Silverman were co-chairs of the four-person naming committee that recommended the new name to the board of the new shul.
A survey went out to members of the two congregations, which put forth some of the names the committee suggested, and also invited members of the congregation to suggest their own names.
“We had suggested five different names and we got a fair number of write-ins as well,” Ehrenworth Shore said.
There were 420 responses to the survey, and members suggested 31 other possible names. However, an overwhelming majority favoured “Beth Israel,” with many commenting that the name combines a respect for the past with a vision of something exciting and dymanic for the present and future.
“The desire to become a new and vibrant ‘community’ was expressed numerous times in the comments,” Silverman added. “Therefore we chose to incorporate the two concepts by adding the Hebrew word Kehillat – meaning community, or community of – to the name so that the soon-to-be amalgamated congregation would be named Kehillat Beth Israel.”
At a board retreat in February, the committee proposed the new name, and the new shul board voted unanimously to adopt it, he said, noting that “the name directly reflects the strong connection members feel to their past, while moving forward to solidify its future connection together as a community.”
Members of Congregation Beth Shalom and Agudath Israel Congregation voted last June to amalgamate Ottawa’s two largest Conservative congregations, and the two synagogues began working together last summer on creating what was being referred to as the “New Shul” until the name was chosen. The full amalgamation will be completed and in place by July.
Kehillat Beth Israel will be fully egalitarian, fully inclusive, and will be affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the major umbrella organization for Conservative congregations in North America. It will be at the current Agudath Israel synagogue at 1400 Coldrey Avenue.
Stuart McCarthy, the president of Agudath Israel Congregation, said he hopes a senior rabbi for Kehillat Beth Israel would be in place before the High Holidays.
UPDATE (March 31): Rabbi Eytan Kenter will become senior rabbi of Kehillat Beth Israel. Click here for story.
McCarthy, and Lorne Goldstein of Congregation Beth Shalom, are co-presidents of Kehillat Beth Israel.
“When we created Rabbi Deborah Zuker’s outreach position, we had in mind how that would fit in with a new senior rabbi. Rabbi Zuker has done a tremendous amount of outreach work with young families, both within the synagogue and in the outside community, to understand what they’re looking for. She has had successful, innovative programs that reflect modern Conservative Jewish values and opportunities for young Jewish mothers and families to get together, such as the new JBabies Tuesday morning drop-in,” McCarthy added.
“The coming together of both congregations – with Rabbi Zuker now in place and Cantor [Daniel] Benlolo on the bimah – really gives meaning to the name,” said Goldstein.
Something else new is that the main sanctuary in the Agudath Israel building has been reconfigured to make the bimah fully accessible.
“It’s been awhile in coming,” said McCarthy, who first recommended making it accessible four years ago.
“Over time, we saw it would become more intimate, and would be better for our older congregants and our relationship with Tamir if it were more accessible. We wanted it to be elderly friendly and inclusive, so that anyone called to the Torah could have an aliyah, and a nice communal, davening experience,” he said.
The catalyst to “get it done” was that February was Jewish Disabilities Inclusive Month, and Agudath Israel had a scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Sami Barth, whose son Yishai Barth has a brilliant mind and multiple physical and cognitive disabilities, said McCarthy.
“A group of volunteers pulled the seats out ourselves, and we worked with a carpenter to do the heavy construction,” he said. “We got support from RONA, who provided materials at cost, and Westboro Flooring, which donated the carpeting, and we were able to get it done for the February 20th Shabbat with our guest speaker.” They modified it a bit after the inaugural service.
“It has been wonderfully well received,” said McCarthy. “It is the first handicapped- and elderly-friendly bimah in the city.”
“We’re just moving right along,” he said. “Other than Shabbat, 13 out of 14 services a week are joint services. We’re also holding just under half the Shabbat services as joint services. For all intents and purposes, we’re together, and having the new name really goes a long way to creating that singular congregation.”