Temple Sholom took a big step closer to having a home of its own, breaking ground on its new premises on Lake Avenue in Scotch Plains.
Led by Rabbi Joel Abraham and Cantor Darcie Sharlein, an estimated 100 members of the Reform congregation gathered Aug. 11 as Abraham and other leaders plunged shining shovels into the green grass.
The congregation, which has close to 250 member families, was founded in Plainfield almost 100 years ago. Since 2003, it has operated out of the Fanwood Presbyterian Church and Union Catholic High School.
Leaders hope the new building will be ready by Rosh Hashana next year.
“Just as the time our ancestors spent in the wilderness made them appreciate the Promised Land all the more, so do we at Temple Sholom rejoice as the end of our journey is in sight,” Abraham said.
The wooded, five-acre plot was purchased in 2007, but planning and municipal issues delayed progress. In May 2010, the Scotch Plains Township Planning Board unanimously approved the temple’s proposed site plan, and final elements came together this summer.
The 8,900-square-foot building, designed by Brawer and Hauptman of Philadelphia, is meant to be one of “greenest” synagogues in the region. It will feature Scotch Plains’ first low-runoff, permeable, paved parking lot, and the roof will be “solar-ready,” designed to take panels that can be connected to the electrical system. The interior has multiple moveable partitions, making for flexibility and space utilization.
For the congregation, the transition process began in 2001. With Abraham, who had been hired in 1999, at the helm, it began deliberations on how to deal with an aging, diminishing membership and the choice whether to remain in place in Plainfield or merge with another congregation. Instead, they accepted the church’s offer of hospitality and moved to Fanwood. That generosity, as it turned out, was a favor returned; one of the founding families of Temple Sholom had donated the land on which the church stands.
The church dining room was adapted to serve as the synagogue chapel, and office space was carved out of other rooms. To help foster their relationship, the two congregations held pulpit exchanges, and a “Worship Together Weekend.”
Temple president Sandra Nussenfeld told the crowd on Sunday, “We have been blessed with truly gracious hosts at the Fanwood Presbyterian Church and Union Catholic High School. Our congregation shared many wonderful years and memories together in the rooms within the church and the school, which we turned into our social, educational, and worship space.”
She continued, “We look forward to continued strength and growth as we begin our next 100 years as a congregation dedicated to each other and the Jewish community at large. We look forward to opening our doors next year to celebrate the New Year in our new home.”
The temple is seeking to complete its “Bonim,” or building, Campaign, aiming to raise $2 million to fund the project. To date, it has collected nearly $1.4 million, and fund-raising efforts continue.
In her speech, past president and Bonim Campaign chair Susan Sedwin, said, “Little did we know that we would begin our capital campaign just as the United States fell into a deep recession. While it has taken us much longer than we ever imagined, we are now taking the final step and beginning the construction of our new home.”