Tifereth Israel marks centennial

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NEW BEDFORD – Tifereth Israel Synagogue marked its 100th anniversary with a joyous three-day celebration in May.

“It’s amazing … for this community to still have such vibrancy,” said Judy Brown, a longtime member, as were her parents.  “And with such a sense of community, and dedication to Judaism, for 100 years, it’s just incredible.”

Togetherness is what keeps a temple successful for 100 years, said Dr. Rahim Ighai, who has been a member of the Conservative temple since 1973.

“It’s the willingness to accept and love each other,” he said.

Tifereth Israel President Martin Levin said, “For generations, our clergy, teachers, leaders and volunteers have inspired and touched so many families. Our Jewish identity, religious observances, learning and inclusion, are the heart and soul of our great synagogue.”

The celebration, which began on May 20 with a Kabbalat Shabbat, also marked the temple’s return to in-person events after almost two years.

The Kabbalat Shabbat featured a cocktail hour, with entertainment from musicians Shelley Katsh and Friends, wine and appetizers, and a lot of schmoozing.

Ruth Gross, who was on the planning committee for the celebration and has been a member for 25 years, said that while researching Tifereth Israel’s history, she saw many family names of congregants who are still active.

The planning committee organized a historical exhibit about the temple, which will be on display in the lobby for a few months. It features an oral history collection, a digital picture gallery and artifacts.

Helen Hull, who was also on the planning committee, said she walked by a photo of her grandmother in 1930 a few times before she realized who it was.

Her grandparents joined in the early 1920s, and, in September, her grandson will be the fifth generation to become a Bar Mitzvah at Tifereth Israel.

Gross said her research showed many past presidents who were following in the footsteps of their fathers or grandfathers.

Elliot Rosenfield, a past president who attended the centennial celebration, said, “People who care and people who take advantage of the religious services, and the social services, is what leads to a thriving congregation.”

Another past president, Robert Feingold, said he helped raise a half-million dollars for the columns at the temple that bear the names of many past and present members. But he said his most important experience as president was working alongside Rabbi Bernard Glassman.

“I learned a lot from him. He was a very unbelievably wonderful man and I still think of the lessons he taught me today,” Feingold said.

On Saturday, a service was held featuring Boston Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert, who spoke about Judaism in the media, followed by a Kiddush luncheon.

Throughout the day, many congregants reminisced about former rabbis at Tifereth Israel.

The original temple, at 42 South Sixth St., was first led by Rabbi Nachman Arnoff, followed by Rabbi Alexander Burnstein and then Rabbi Bernard Ziskind, who served the congregation for 40 years.

“Rabbi Ziskind was a man of his word, he didn’t say one thing and do something else,” Ighai recalled.

Louis Silverstein, who has been a member of the temple since 1937, remembered attending services at the old building.

“I finished Hebrew school at the old synagogue, and had my Bar Mitzvah there,” he said. “I’m a New Bedford resident, and it was the place to come practice your faith. I wouldn’t ever go anywhere else.”

In 1966, Tifereth Israel built a new synagogue at 145 Brownell Ave. Since 2009, half of the building has been rented to Our Sisters’ School, an education program for girls in grades five to eight.

In 2010, the 118-year-old Ahavath Achim Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation in New Bedford, closed, which led several members to join Tifereth Israel.

Myra Goldberg had been a member of Ahavath Achim since she was five.

“It was a transition,” she said of moving to Tifereth Israel. “But a wonderful one in the end.”

Goldberg, who was on the planning committee, said, “It’s just a pleasure to see how many people have responded … and all the charitable things they’ve done.”

Rabbi Raphael Kanter, who has been at Tifereth Israel for 25 years, said, “When I came here, I never dreamed I would be here to see it turn 100. I’m excited to see everyone returning for the festivities.”

One longtime member of the congregation, Ruth Meltz, 102, from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, has actually lived longer than the temple.

“I never thought I would be here for this,” Meltz said. “I have many memories and it’s all coming back now. I’m happy our synagogue made it to today.”

On Sunday afternoon, there was a community celebration geared toward younger congregants. The event featured food from Ella’s Wood Burning Mobile Oven, local musicians Stan Sherman, Gary Brown, Steve Mazza, Seth Asser, Nathaniel Schudrich, Dan Schwartz and the Alef Beats, a centennial scavenger hunt, a rock-climbing wall, an ice cream truck, a silent auction and art and crafts projects.

“This whole weekend was a little bit like planning for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah,” said Eve Sky, vice president of the temple’s board.

She added, “With the help of all of our volunteers, the whole weekend has been wonderful.”

Sky said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell was among the officials who issued proclamations to mark the occasion.

But, in addition to the joy, a few congregants worried about whether Tifereth Israel would still be here in another 100 years. Patty Rosenfield said younger generations are underrepresented among the temple’s 450 families.

“I think it’s very difficult in these times, because this Jewish community is shrinking,” said Rosenfield, who has been with the temple for 50 years.

“The Jewish population is decreasing significantly here,” echoed Scott Lima, who represents Ward Five in the New Bedford City Council and who attended the celebration with his son. Lima grew up in the neighborhood and has had several friends who belonged to the temple over the years.

“The vast majority of my friends that I grew up with don’t live here anymore. They’ve moved away,” he said.

Lima said active participation as well as activities and opportunities for youth are key to a temple’s continued success.

“The youth are the ones that are going to be around,” he said.

And Tifereth Israel is off to a good start on its next 100 years.

“We have five new families, and they signed up for the Hebrew school for next year with little children,” Hull said.

“Maybe they will be part of the group thinking of us when celebrating 150.”

SETH CHITWOOD (www.sethchitwood.com), of Barrington, is a features reporter for The Standard-Times, in New Bedford. He is also the creative director of the award-winning Angelwood Pictures production company.