Usually a “For Sale” sign garners little more than a passing notice, but the one on the grounds of Congregation Beth Sholom has raised more than a few eyebrows. The building, at the corner of Camp Street and Rochambeau Avenue, on Providence’s East Side, has been home to the modern Orthodox congregation for many years.
According to Rabbi Barry Dolinger, the building is indeed for sale – and that’s a good thing for the congregation.
“People would be wrong to think this is us closing down in any way,” he said recently, explaining that the congregation is a lively place with a diverse group of engaged congregants.
In fact, the membership has grown from 50 to 60 member units in 2011 to just over 100 today, according to Dolinger.
The old building is expensive to maintain and is not configured for the kind of community that Beth Sholom aspires to, he said.
For example, the main sanctuary, designed in another era, holds 300-400 people. Even when the full congregation worships together, they are dwarfed by the room.
“Prayer thrives in intimate settings,” Dolinger said.
And the three weekly Shabbat children’s groups don’t have the right type of spaces to meet.
“The space is no longer flexible enough for us,” he said. Add to that an air conditioning system that only partially works and other capital repairs that are sure to come up in the near future, and the decision was made to sell the building and look for a more modern space.
“Because we are growing,” Dolinger said, “it’s a good time for strategic thinking and fiscal responsibility.”
What happens next depends on the sale of the building and a congregational committee that has been meeting to research possible future spaces.
“We are only looking for spaces as convenient – or more convenient – for our members mobility-wise. The committee charted where current members live. We know members don’t mind walking,” he said.
The coronavirus will have an impact; as the congregation looks for new space, they will take into consideration the guidance of the Orthodox Union, the national Orthodox group to which they belong.
“We may be praying outside” or in smaller groups, said Dolinger.
He said the Talmud offers guidance on selling a synagogue building, including engaging with the membership on the sale and not disrespecting the site of the old synagogue.
It’s important, he said, that under the new ownership, the building continues to be an asset for the neighborhood.
FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.