The task of summarizing the history of a synagogue comprised of three "congregations of origin," dating to the early 1900's, is not an easy one. There is no way to capture the dynamism of each of these sacred communities, the lives that were touched, and the commitment to continuing Jewish life in the US. What follows is a brief synopsis of our shared history and a more detailed description of where we are today as a sacred community.
The history of Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El is one of strength as we approach challenges, of welcoming the stranger, of open-mindedness and willingness to grow. A thread throughout the fabric of our community is the desire of our members to grow Jewishly, to create, reimagine and recreate a sacred community that is relevant in its time and preserves the essence of our Jewish heritage.
Scarsdale Synagogue was founded in 1961 when Rabbi David Greenberg left Westchester Reform Temple to begin a new congregation. He was joined by approximately fifteen families. Services were initially held in a neighborhood church. By 1968 the congregation had increased, a family donated the land we continue to occupy, and loans were secured to finance construction of a larger, permanent home for the growing congregation. True to Jewish tradition, the school was the first space to be completed. Worship services were held in the room we still use but now call the Social Hall. Some members of our congregation who worshipped with Rabbi Greenberg remain active and valued members of our sacred community.
Membership in Scarsdale Synagogue grew along with its reputation and by 1976, when Tremont Temple came into the picture, the building was stretched to capacity. Tremont Temple was established in 1909 in the Bronx, New York, by a community of German Jewish immigrants. By the early 1970's the congregation had dwindled and its' members were looking for a new home. The imposing Greek Revival building on the Grand Concourse (worth a visit!) was sold to a church. The religious artifacts, Sifrei Torah and memorial plaques that told the story of Tremont Temple were brought to Scarsdale Synagogue. In December 1976 our congregation's name was officially changed to Scarsdale Synagogue Tremont Temple.
The consolidation of Scarsdale Synagogue and Tremont Temple resulted in an increased and invigorated membership, and provided the funds to build a new sanctuary. In October 1978 the new sanctuary was dedicated with a great sense of accomplishment. The modern design was inspired by the famous wooden synagogues of Poland that had been destroyed in the Holocaust. The cedar walls are intended to conjure the biblical "cedars of Lebanon," and the columns are intended to be reminders of the pillars in Solomon's Temple.
Rabbi Greenberg retired from Scarsdale Synagogue Tremont Temple in 1980, and in 1981 Rabbi Stephen A. Klein became our new spiritual leader. Rabbi Klein was our Rabbi for 31 years, leading a generation of congregants and their families, and was valued as a warm-hearted person who reached out to every family in the congregation and to the community at-large.
In 1984 Cantor Kerry Ben-David began his lengthy partnership with Rabbi Klein, replacing Cantor Nico Castel, and our congregation continued to grow. In 2002 we successfully concluded our L'chaim campaign -- funds were raised for an Endowment and for expansion of our building. A youth lounge, computer lab, classrooms and an alternative worship space were added to the existing structure. Also included was space for our new and expanding early childhood education program, Mazel Tots, and our summer camp called Summer Stars. Cantor Ben-David retired in 2005 and Cantor Chanin Becker joined our clergy team.
Cantor Becker's arrival heralded a new level of partnership between our Rabbi and Cantor, as well as a new liturgical repertoire, and additional prayer and learning opportunities for the women of our community. These worship, learning and social activities have become an integral part of the fabric of our community. Cantor Becker also initiated our Communal Worship Committee, cementing the shared responsibility for meaningful worship between clergy and lay leadership.
In 2008, our community went through yet another metamorphosis when Temple Emanu-El of Southern Westchester consolidated with Scarsdale Synagogue Tremont Temple. An active Reform congregation in Yonkers for 108 years, Temple Emanu-El was effected by changing demographics, as Tremont Temple had been in an earlier time. Temple Emanu-El was a congregation with a rich history of innovative worship, education and social action and its' members were warmly and successfully welcomed to their new home. Continuing their tradition of having their Temple represent the concept of "... worshipping Adonai in the beauty of holiness..." the members of the former Temple Emanu-El brought with them Sifrei Torah, memorial plaques and many items of Judaic art and artifacts. The merger has been smooth and we have emerged as a stronger and enriched community.
Rabbi Andy Gordon joined us as Assistant Rabbi in July 2008, at the time of our consolidation. After two years, Rabbi Gordon received the title of Associate Rabbi, recognizing the significant contributions he made in expanding opportunities for worship, learning and youth involvement at our sacred community. Rabbi Gordon conceived of Team Tikkun and planned its implementation with the assistance of a new involved group of lay leaders. As of July 1, 2012, Rabbi Gordon moved on to be the Associate Rabbi in a Temple on Long Island.
In June of 2012, Rabbi Klein retired and we now have Rabbi Jeffrey Brown as our spiritual leader.
The history of Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El is not only a record of devoted clergy and professional staff, of bricks and mortar, or of consolidations. The seeds of who we are today, and the vision of who we want to be as a congregation, were planted in 2001 with our participation in the Westchester cohort of Synagogue 2000. Approximately twenty of our members participated S2K's three-year course of study, sharing, visioning and imagining the future of our sacred community. We picked from the tree of low hanging fruit and made some long-term plans. In 2004 our S2K team sprouted into what we called "Synagogue Team Kehillah," (STK), three separate study groups that were facilitated by members of the original team. In 2008, working with Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman and Terry Rosenberg as consultants, we initiated Community Conversations, a congregational conversation that asked our members to think about what worked in our sacred community, and what didn't! The thoughts and words, hopes and dreams of our congregants were summarized in a Community Conversations Report in February 2009. The report crystallized the need for a strategic plan (Atideinu/Our Future).
Atideinu is a work in process. It's been an open and transparent process that has required honest conversation, thinking, reading and planning. We've challenged one another to "think outside the box" and to be aware of limiting assumptions. Atideinu has created excitement, participation and the belief that we can create a sacred community that is more meaningful to all of our members.