Torat Yisrael dedicates its new building


Torat Yisrael President Susan Smoller accepts a tree – a gift from the local Muslim community – from Imam Walid Muhammad, as Andrew Sholes, center and Imam Farid Ansari observe.  /NANCY KIRSCHEAST GREENWICH – One group of wandering Jews has finally found a home … in East Greenwich.

Torat Yisrael, a Conservative synagogue led by Rabbi Amy Levin, was created by the merger of Temple Beth Israel, founded in 1921, and Temple Beth Torah, founded a bit more than 60 years ago. The synagogue’s first building, constructed in Cranston in 1952 at 330 Park Ave., was sold to Praise Tabernacle Church in April 2012 for $1.2 million.

On a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon, members of the Jewish community, religious leaders from many other denominations and civic leaders poured into the new light-filled synagogue for the dedication ceremonies.

The sanctuary’s floor-to-ceiling windows, immediately behind the bimah, look out on lush, green, conservation-protected wetlands.

In his invocation, Rabbi Peter Stein, of Temple Sinai, the reform synagogue in Cranston, reminded the crowd of God’s instruction to Moses about building a sanctuary.

“Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell in you – God will be in you, the builders, not in it, the building.”

There is a holiness, he said, to the houses of study, assembly and prayer that our people have erected throughout the ages. “May this building serve as a beacon of light and peace for the community,” said Rabbi Stein, who preceded Rabbi Levin as president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.

Additional religious and civic leaders – including Rev. Bill Trench, of the East Greenwich Methodist Church; Michael B. Isaacs, East Greenwich Town Council president and Imam Farid Ansari, of the Muslim-American Da’wah Center of Rhode Island, president of the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement – offered comments and commendations.

“It’s not an accident that the three strains of Abrahamic faith are here today – Christians, Muslims and Jews. That’s due to Rabbi Levin,” said Rev. Trench. “Her voice in the state for justice has been one that we [members of East Greenwich Clergy Association] treasure.”

Calling the Muslim community’s gift of a tree “a token of appreciation,” Imam Ansari added, “God says to us in the Koran that we Muslims are to guard the sanctity of churches, synagogues and mosques where God’s name is pronounced. Our God and your God are one and the same.”

When speeches and presentations were interrupted with buzzing and feedback from the sound system, one young child’s cranky, yet clearly stated, pronoucement, “I hate that sound,” elicited sympathetic laughter.

In identifying dozens of challenges and obstacles associated with building a new synagogue, Andrew Sholes, building committee chair and past president, called the experience “no easy feat.”

Throughout the multi-year process, Sholes said to appreciative and knowing murmurs of assent, “I told our rabbi to have faith. I knew that we would prevail.”

Acknowledging the enormous scope of Torat Yisrael’s project given the congregation’s size, Sholes said, “The remaining members never lost their support. It was built for generations today and those to follow. We welcome all who want to rekindle Jewish learning.”

The long-deferred dream is now a reality, said Susan Smoller, synagogue president. During her seven years as president, she signed the purchase agreement in 2007 to buy the East Greenwich site, participated in the 2009 groundbreaking ceremony, signed the sales agreement in 2012 to sell the Park Avenue building and participated in the June 7 – 9 dedication ceremonies.

“This really is the house that love built,” said Smoller. “We embark on a new era – not just for Torat Yisrael now, but for future generations of Torat Yisrael.” Smoller envisions the building as a hub of activity – socializing, praying, studying, eating and, most of all, sharing and communicating.

Calling himself  “an Irish kid from Cranston,” Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), who grew up in the Park Avenue neighborhood, spoke of the many personal connections he has had and continues to have with some congregants.

“It’s not just another ceremony; it’s coming home to friends and neighbors; I’m one of you today,” said Reed. “This will be a community that sustains us all.”

Greeted with sustained applause, Rabbi Levin posed questions to the crowd: Our youngest students learn that God is everywhere and that God cannot be seen and lacks human attributes. Why, then, does God need a house or place of prayer?

Although God is accessible to us any time and any place – and we need no intercessor to direct our prayers to God – she explained that God understands humanity’s need for a house of prayer. “Were we to rely only on our personal spaces and personal prayers, we would be relegated to lives of spiritual isolation.”

Reverend Don Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, who traveled to Israel with Rabbi Levin and the imam, gave a closing benediction.

Numerous synagogue leaders were recognized and lauded for their work; many received tangible gifts as well as words of praise.

Children from the synagogue’s religious school sang.

Before the crowd dispersed – some to relish the sunshine on their faces, others to enjoy a buffet accompanied by music – dozens of congregants and guests photographed the historic moment when Sholes affixed the mezuzzah to the synagogue.

MORE INFO: 885-6600 or The synagogue is at 1251 Middle Road, East Greenwich.