Judaism Hangs on at Synagogue in Rural Pennsylvania


It began in Chambersburg in 1840 when a bunch of Jewish males established a burial society — a small cemetery with a constructing to organize our bodies for burials — and a home for a visiting rabbi the place they held providers.

Congregation Sons of Israel (Photograph by Heather M. Ross)

By 1919, Congregation Sons of Israel utilized for and obtained nonprofit standing as a non secular group. And for the 103 years since, the synagogue has served as the middle of Jewish life within the small (inhabitants of about 21,000), rural city of Chambersburg, about 25 miles northeast of Gettysburg in south-central Pennsylvania.

The closest synagogue has a part-time rabbi and is sort of 25 miles away and throughout the Maryland state line; the following closest is 35 miles away.

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“My mother and father moved to Chambersburg once I was 4 years previous. I used to be the second lady ever bat mitzvahed on the synagogue,” stated Lynne Newman, the non secular director and ritual chair.

Whereas the congregation was bigger prior to now, the synagogue stays an vital image to native Jews, and the congregation has undeniably formed Chambersburg, which obtained its begin as a milling city in 1730 and was burned by Accomplice forces in 1864.

“After I was youthful, in the event you missed three days (of college), you’d be thought of a truant. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur had been thought of truancy,” Newman stated. “A gaggle of retailers and our rabbi went to the varsity district and obtained that modified. They’re nonetheless not official, however you’re now not truant. These three days imply you’ll be able to’t have excellent attendance.”

Jews have by no means had a significant presence in Chambersburg however, for essentially the most half, the group has welcomed, embraced and supported Franklin County’s solely synagogue.

“When the Pittsburgh assault occurred, I organized a memorial service, and 400 or 500 folks got here. Folks left flowers on the doorways of our synagogue and wrote letters,” Newman stated, referencing the antisemitic terrorist assault on the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

Congregation Sons of Israel (Photograph by Heather M. Ross)

The biggest non secular inhabitants in Chambersburg is Christianity, and nearly all of the city is politically conservative. In accordance with Pennsylvania Division of State voter registration statistics, Franklin County has about 61,000 registered Republicans in comparison with 24,000 Democrats.

“That is an exceptionally conservative space. When my mother and father moved to Chambersburg, my father, who had been a lifelong Democrat, registered as a Republican as a result of in Chambersburg in the event you needed to do enterprise you needed to be Republican — it was simply that conservative of an space,” Newman stated.

New arrivals seldom change Chambersburg, based on Newman. Chambersburg adjustments them.

“Chambersburg as a complete is just not dangerous; there are antisemites right here, as there are all over the place. Since Trump, they’ve develop into extra overt,” she stated.

Essentially the most placing antisemitism Newman encountered in Chambersburg occurred when she was in ninth grade on the since-closed Central Junior Excessive College.

Newman was in well being class, elevating her hand and answering questions when her instructor scolded her about the way in which she answered, regardless of all college students responding in the identical method.

“He stated, ‘This isn’t certainly one of your Jewish prayer conferences,’” Newman recalled.

When Newman requested for an apology, she was despatched to the principal’s workplace, the place she defined what occurred to a comparatively unconcerned administration. For the following three days, as an alternative of going to well being class, she went to the workplace, the place she stayed till the instructor apologized.

“Aside from that, I’ve had no hassle in any respect, not with anyone or something. It struck me at the same time as I used to be married and grew up. Most individuals revered me so long as I went to providers and practiced my faith,” Newman stated.

The synagogue is a crucial reminder for Chambersburg of non secular variety and the significance of interfaith cooperation.

“After I graduated highschool, there have been 4 Jews in my graduating class,” Newman stated, so when her youngsters had been rising up, she made an effort to assist educate the group about Jewish life.

“When my youngsters had been rising up, I went into faculties for Christmas and Easter to speak about Chanukah and Passover. I’d usher in meals and video games. I’d discuss to them. And the lecturers had been all prepared to do this,” she stated.

A younger congregant in Chambersburg (Courtesy of Congregation Sons of Israel)

In accordance with Newman, the interfaith motion has an simple presence, even in Chambersburg.

“We get calls from totally different church buildings [with people] asking to come back to our synagogue and observe a service. Now we have a ministerium that was began by certainly one of our rabbis and a minister from a Presbyterian church. They did a Holocaust service; for a very long time, it was held at totally different church buildings and sometimes on the synagogue. For the previous 15 years or so, it has virtually all the time been at our synagogue. The participation is interfaith with totally different church buildings within the space. We mild memorial candles and have totally different readers,” Newman stated.

The interfaith motion additionally performs a task in how the small synagogue raises cash.

“Now we have [a few] totally different fundraisers. One is our Jewish Heritage Meals Competition; we’ve got the meals festivals twice a yr. Christians from throughout come to those meals festivals. The ladies of the synagogue do the cooking and [we] take stuff residence with us. You are available, donate all of the meals and pay for a meal. Folks come, they just like the meals, they fight various things. We take folks upstairs, and present them our sanctuary. It’s a option to attain the group,” Newman stated.

“It exhibits folks we aren’t scary. It’s onerous to hate one thing that you just perceive,” she stated.

The synagogue has hosted Friday evening providers and invited totally different space church buildings to ship representatives. These providers usually finish with a question-and-answer interval.

Garry Kipe, a pastor in Chambersburg for greater than 20 years on the Bethel Meeting of God Church, stated that, general, Chambersburg is just not aware of Judaism.

However he believes that different Christians and Individuals can study from Judaism.

“Their worth, how they esteem the Torah, they simply extremely esteem the phrase of God, and it actually spoke to me and challenged me, that wow, we have to actually respect what we maintain in our arms, the Bible. And lots of people in America don’t actually notice what they maintain. They (Jewish folks) take it critically,” Kipe stated.

Yearly on Christmas, Jews and different volunteers make Christmas dinner to assist the native Chambersburg Salvation Military. The collaboration between faiths has been a convention there since 1986 and supplies Christmas dinners for a whole lot of individuals within the space yearly.

“I’ve invited choirs, ministers, Santa and his elves. It’s not my vacation, however I would like them to have an excellent one,” Newman stated.

Regardless of the wealthy historical past and deep group ties, the synagogue is struggling. It has shrunken to about 20-25 households, which is problematic.

“Most of our members had been older, they usually handed on. All the opposite youngsters went to school and by no means got here again. Numerous the youngsters rising up within the synagogue didn’t come again as adults, they didn’t come again to Chambersburg. Most Jews in Chambersburg aren’t affiliated. They could have married a Christian,” Newman stated. “We’re dropping the following era.”

“My grandson can be 8 in September. I would like it (the synagogue) to be there for him to be bar mitzvahed, however I don’t know if we’ll make it,” Newman stated.

The bimah of Congregation Sons of Israel in Chambersburg (Courtesy of Congregation Sons of Israel)

Jessica Doubell, the board president at Congregation Sons of Israel, stated, “It’s crucial for there to nonetheless be a Jewish presence in Chambersburg. We’re in such an space that’s predominantly Christian. After I was rising up, not lots of people knew what Jews had been. It’s crucial for everyone to maintain an open thoughts concerning the world, and do not forget that it’s not the identical all over the place you go.”

Doubell cherishes the synagogue’s group, noting that even members who now not attend keep related by way of the mailing record. The historical past the synagogue shares with the Chambersburg group is just a part of why it’s so particular to Doubell, who grew up within the synagogue attending providers and taking part in hide-and-seek with the rabbi’s son.

Whereas the congregation has shrunken, it stays deeply related to Chambersburg and Judaism, with members trying ahead to each Friday.

“With out the Chambersburg synagogue, the following closest is so far-off, it will actually lower off those that need to go to providers and be a part of the Jewish group. I don’t have time to go to Harrisburg,” Doubell stated.

The synagogue is seeking to rent a brand new part-time rabbi, because the earlier part-time rabbi left for a brand new place. Rabbi Dr. Samuel Richardson, who works for the Jewish Nationwide Fund because the director of small group outreach, is serving through the Excessive Holidays, then staying on by Sukkot. JE

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