The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

June 20, 2013


Temple Beth Israel closing

SHARON — Although not a native of the area, Stanley Bard said it’s easy to understand the emotions surrounding the closing of Temple Beth Israel in Sharon.

As president of the temple, the Brooklyn native started the talk around a year ago among synagogue members about merging with Rodef Sholom Temple in Youngstown and closing the doors here. There had been some quiet chat of this over the past four or five years but Bard thought it was time to bring the issue front and center.  

“I put the 800-pound gorilla in the room,’’ he said.

The discussions began and overtures were made to their brethren in Youngstown. As the talks continued, it became clear to the local congregation it was the right thing to do. When put to a vote, it was unanimous.

It wasn’t until construction crews recently began removing religious stained glass artwork on Temple Beth Israel’s windows that it hit him – this was a loss of a home.

“When I walked in the first time and I saw them taking the windows down it grabbed my heart,’’ Bard said. “I can only imagine what was going on in the minds of people who have been here all of their lives.’’

But in many ways, the local congregation will be at home in their new synagogue. The removed windows are being erected in the Youngstown temple and, as it turns out, the same artist created much of the stained glass work there.

With the merger formally effective July 1, the journey to reach that point wasn’t as difficult as many imagined. Although the local temple had the financial resources to continue for another decade, like a number of Christian churches, a dwindling congregation had reached the point of no return.

At its height in the early 1950s the temple’s congregation was believed to have numbered around 500 families. But with demographic shifts and major local industrial plants closing in the late ’70s the congregation numbers began to fall, with many of the remaining members among the temple’s oldest. In the most recent count the temple had 98 families, with 40 percent of those living out of town. Further, a family could be as small as a single person.

A large percentage of the congregation is out of town because under the temple rules a member in good standing, someone who is continuous member who paid in aggregate of at least $5,000 in dues, could get a free plot in its cemetery, Bard said.

Having a part-time rabbi at the temple, when he wasn’t available a member of the congregation would lead a service with sometimes only four or five people present.

“With these numbers staring us in the face we realized we had to do something,’’ Bard said. “We just had fewer and fewer people participating.’’

With the congregation’s approval, the temple’s board began holding talks with the Youngstown temple about merging. It quickly became apparent to everyone this was a good match.

“It was hard to tell who wanted the merger more,’’ Bard said with a smile.

Although the Youngstown temple also is seeing a decline in members, it still has a thriving congregation and was eager to accept the infusion of new blood from Sharon. Joint events were held in which congregation members got to know each other and friendships began to grow.

It didn’t take long for representatives of both congregations to craft a formal merger agreement.

Rodef Sholom Temple is making changes to accommodate local temple members such as holding their service a little later Friday evening, 6 p.m., and might begin even later if needed. Also, events and services will be held in the Shenango Valley on occasion. The last service at Temple Beth Israel already has been held.

Wherever possible religious items and symbols from the local temple will be moved to the Youngstown temple including the Torahs – which cost $40,00 each for new ones because they are hand-written on special parchment.

Historical documents will be turned over to the Mercer County Historical Society and the temple’s outdoor Holocaust memorial will be moved to the Jewish Community Center in Youngstown.

Damaged religious items beyond repair will be taken to the synagogue’s local cemetery and be buried in a Jewish ceremony, called a Geniga. Plaques bearing names of donors mounted throughout the temple honoring donations of items will be offered to donors’ family members.  

Located at 840 Highland Road, the temple will eventually be available for sale, Bard said.

Opening in 1950, it wasn’t quite ready for Louis and Marlene Epstein’s wedding that year. The Sharon residents and Temple Beth Israel members instead were married in Youngstown.

Both of them have close family ties to the local temple as Louis’ father, Samuel Epstein, and Marlene’s stepfather, Dr. David Ekker, were instrumental in ensuring it got built.      

The couple said they were upbeat on the future of their congregation’s Jewish life.

“We’re optimistic of the merger of the two congregations,’’ Marlene said. “It should result in a much stronger entity, assuring the future survival and future of both congregations.’’


Text Only
Local News
  • Prison term upheld for sex offender

    A sex offender challenging a 4- to 8-year prison sentence for a probation violation lost an appeal of that sentence.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man, 24, must register as sex offender for life

    The Ohio man who exposed himself to Sharon girls on their way to school last fall must register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life when he gets out of jail.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man deemed predator – for now

    A former Sharon man was sent to the state prison system Tuesday for corrupting the morals of a teenage girl, but the question of whether his penalties under Megan’s Law will stand could be subject to future legal proceedings.

    April 23, 2014

  • Not even waste will be wasted

    Tom Darby admits he wishes the startup of the anaerobic digestion process at the Hermitage Water Pollution Control Plant had moved along much faster.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3rd Earth Fest draws families to Penn State

    Penn State Shenango’s Earth Fest has become a spring tradition for area residents.
    Families poured into downtown Sharon for the campus’ third annual sustainability celebration.

    April 22, 2014

  • Amish clean Shenango River Volunteers protect Shenango River

    Shenango River Watchers has spent more than a decade working to clean up the Shenango and improve recreational access to its water and banks.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • For many, recycling’s become way of life

    When Pennsylvania mandated curbside recycling for its larger municipalities in 1998 – those with more than 5,000 people – there was grumbling about government interference in the lives of everyday people.

    April 22, 2014

  • Many items can’t be thrown away

    The computer screen in front of you isn’t likely to do you much harm, at least not until it’s tossed in a landfill where the lead-filled components start to leak and eventually find their way into your drinking water, according to Jerry Zona, director of the Lawrence-Mercer County Recycling/Solid Waste department.

    April 22, 2014

  • David Sykes' solar panels Earthworks

    While touring Germany last year, David Sykes spotted solar panels resting in a residential back yard.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Burned using Icy Hot, woman claims

    A Grove City woman has sued Chattem Inc. and Rite Aid of Pennsylvania Inc., alleging she suffered a second-degree chemical burn using one of Chattem’s Icy Hot pain relief products.

    April 21, 2014

  • Family outing Family friendly

    “We’re No. 5’’ isn’t a sports cheer you’ll hear any time soon.
    But considering the lumps the greater area has gotten over the years on economic rankings, it’s an outright victory.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • To demolish or not Tear it down? Fix it up?

    In 2007, Richard D. Givens bought a home at 831 Knobwood Drive in Hermitage for $245,000.
    Today, the city of Hermitage is seeking the demolition of the now-vacant house, arguing the damage from water infiltration makes the structure not worth saving.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 19, 2014

    April 19, 2014

  • Man admits having child porn

    A Mercer man accused of soliciting and downloading photographs of nude teenage girls pleaded guilty April 8 to sexual abuse of children for possessing child pornography.

    April 19, 2014

  • Police getting new tool to fight crime

    Sharon police working at crime scenes will be putting a powerful new investigative tool to work as soon as next month.

    April 19, 2014