Although we like to think that Jewish observance in Springfield started with the group that became Temple Beth Ahm, this was not the case. Well before the first Millburn congregation was organized in 1926, Jewish services were held in Springfield from time to time in a small store at the corner of Mountain and Morris Avenues owned by Max Tanenbaum (where Edward Anthony’s saIon is now). Some of the names associated with this minyan were Bleiwise, Bardy, Tanenbaum, and Levine.
When Congregation B’nai Israel of Millburn was started, the Jews in Springfield finally had a synagogue nearby. It served us well for a quarter of a century. But with the expanding Jewish population in Springfield, it was inevitable that we would establish our own organization. During the winter of 1951-52, a social group started that became the Jewish Community Group of Springfield. The first meeting of a Planning Board for this group was held at the home of Ralph Feldman on November 28, 1951. These people were the nucleus of the board: Bob Bass, Ralph Feldman, Norman Freedman, Dr. Samuel Goldstein, Gerald London, Maurice Plotkin, Sid Rich, Danny Rosenthal, Ed Scharf, Clarence Seltzer, Bill Shepard, Ben Sussman, and Ephie Weiniger.
There were about 120-130 Jewish families in Springfield then, with more expected in the near future. The Jewish Community Group felt that these people could have fun in their new town by banding together for social and civic betterment, and that they should give their children a feeling of solidarity with others of similar background. It was decided to invite all Jewish families in town, including those of mixed marriages, to join the group. The emphasis would be on social functions with civic overtones, and to encourage recognition of and respect for the Jewish community as a group within Springfield.
Ralph Feldman was elected temporary chairman. At the first regular meeting, at the home ol Ilsa and Dave Kaplan on June 25, 1952, Dr. Samuel Goldstein was elected president. In keeping with the group's interest in civic affairs, Ike Freedman was named Community Affairs chairman. Dues were set at $15 per family. A social gathering was held at the American Legion Hall on December 11, 1952.
It was eventually decided that a Sunday school was needed, end one was established at Chisholm School that same fall. Twenty two children were enrolled in two classes. Milt Kappstatter was principal and the volunteer teachers included Roz Yablonsky, Ephie Weiniger, Clarice Weiniger, Millie Kramerman, Sue Kalem, and Carol Cohen. The children enjoyed participating in Springfield's first Sukkah, built in the Kappstatters' backyard with Nahum Gershwin leading Sukkot services on October 5, 1953.
In 1953, Bernard Lyons became membership chairman. Helen and Morris Josephs became the editors of the first Bulletin, and plans were made for the children to observe Purim. A community Seder was held at the Pleasant Valley Hotel in West Orange. We also donated several mirrors for the brand new Florence M. Gaudineer School. That spring, some 325 tickets were sold for a Barn Dance, and an Adult Education series addressed the issues of "How to Answer Prejudiced Remarks" and "Jewish History." On April 1, 1953, Treasurer Dan Kalem reported a balance of $685.13, with a total paid-up membership of 57 families. The first dinner dance was held at the Goldman Hotel in West Orange on December 12, 1953. Cost was $20.00 per couple.
On the evening of May 27, 1953, after much lively discussion, it was decided a committee would investigate acquiring land for a building. This came after many months of debate on the ultimate goal of the organization. The group finally decided to establish a Jewish community center combining social, cultural, and religious activities in a building. A suitable site was not available immediately, but in the meantime we obtained the use of the Presbyterian Parish House for Friday night services twice a month. The first such service was held October 20, 1953. Allan Zane was cantor, Ted Siegel was the lay leader, and prayer books were donated by B'nai Abraham in Newark. Members still had not agreed on whether to be a Conservative or Reform congregation. Eventually the vote would be Conservative 115, Reform 24.
On March 10, 1954, Bernard Lyons, chairman of the land committee, reported that the Chateau Baltusrol was available for $70,000, $3,500 down with a 5 percent mortgage. This proposal was adopted on March 17, with the understanding that the membership of 102 families would agree to increasing dues $25 to a total of $100. During that summer the members spent long days repairing and remodeling the building. Our first High Holiday services were held in September 1954, under religious chairman Leonard Golden, visiting Rabbi Feier and Cantor Irving Kramerman.
During the 1955-56 year, we engaged Rabbi Reuben R. Levine as our spiritual leader. Lillian and Paul Karlin donated our first Sefer Torah. With a membership of 145 families, we joined United Synagogue of America. And, guided by Rabbi Levine, we adopted a new name: Temple Beth Ahm, "House of the People."
Membership steadily increased and the life of Temple Beth Ahm became fuller and busier than ever. In the fall of 1956, Rabbi Levine met with the Presbyterian and Methodist clergy in town to establish an annual ecumenical Thanksgiving service, to be rotated among the various houses of worship. This is a tradition that continues to this day. Over the summer in 1957, the Ways and Means committee decided to organize a raffle to raise funds, at $25 a ticket. First prize: a brand-new 1958 car. Second prize: a one-week cruise to Nassau or Jamaica, with baby-sitting to be provided in the winner's home if necessary! Child care was on the members' minds, for Ruth Weisman reported at a board meeting that the nursery school program was in full swing for that fall.
We soon outgrew the old Chateau Baltusrol, and work went ahead to design and build Temple Beth Ahm as we know it today. The new building was dedicated on May 18, 1962, under the direction of Chairman Maurice Friedman. It would not have been possible without the untiring leadership of Milt Kappstatter, along with Mendy Mendelsohn, chairman of the building fund; Leonard Garber, chairman of the building committee; Shelly Fried, chairman of the architect committee; and many, many others. Mr. Mendelsohn was also busy editing our Temple Bulletin, a post he held for several years.
On November 25, 1963, Temple Beth Ahm held a Memorial Service for President John F. Kennedy. The turnout was as high as for the High Holiday services. The temple had an active dramatic group during these years, mounting such productions as Guys and Dolls and Fiorello. A gala Bar Mitzvah Ball for the temple was held in 1965. In 1967, Benjamin Margolis was engaged as the new principal of the Religious School, beginning a long tradition of service to our community. And in 1968, the name of the short street leading from Baltusrol Way to our building was changed to Temple Drive.
The seventies were as busy as the sixties had been. On May 4-6, 1973, Temple Beth Ahm joined in a community-wide celebration of the 25th anniversary of Israel's independence. Tumultuous events have always followed one after the other in Israel: just four months later, Arthur Falkin was reporting to the temple board that the Israel Emergency Fund had raised over $270,000 right after the Yom Kippur War.
In December, our Hazzan Dardashti performed a concert to benefit the Cantor's Scholarship Fund. Today the choir is still using the "Dardashti Kaddish" for evening services. February 1974 witnessed the inauguration of another Temple tradition: the annual Minyan-naire Service, to be held every year on the yahrzeit for Seymour Cohan. That year we also resumed the practice of festive Dinner Dances for fundraising. This one was in honor of Rabbi Levine's 20 years of leadership.
Temple Beth Ahm has been a leader in egalitarianism. In December 1974, eleven women shared an adult Bat Mitzvah service. Ben Margolis taught the group, and it included Yetta Brody, Miriam Carchman, Anne Isaacson, Eleanor Kuperstein, Barbara Lebovitz, Flora Lichter, Rosalie Millman, Merle Scheinmann, Enid Steir, Marilyn Zapolitz, and Irma Zeller. This helped to inspire other women to learn to lead services, become Torah readers, and increase their leadership roles both in the Sisterhood (later Women's League) and in the temple at large. Rosalie Millman was the first woman to serve as Temple president, from 1976-1980.
The year 1976 was a multi-faceted celebration of Temple Beth Ahm's 25th anniversary. Benny Goodman performed at a wonderful concert at the temple in February. An entire weekend in June was set aside as the highlight of the festivities. Some of the chairmen were Maxine Liss, Barry Segal, Shirley Strausi and Leonard Golden. A special candle-lighting ceremony was led by RabbCzechoslovakia. It was permanently installed as part of a beautiful exhibit in our lobby. The congregation, community officials and Holocaust survivors all participated in a full-day observance that included a message sent by President George Bush; original music written for the event by Michael Lirtzman, our organist, choir director and composer-in-residence; and a candlelight procession of all of the children.
Starting i Levine and Cantor Israel Barzak.
Temple Beth Ahm has sponsored many stimulating Adult Education programs over the years. A Scholar-In-Residence program was established in 1980, to bring outstanding scholars for an entire weekend of study with the congregation on a regular basis. Our first guest was Dr. Stephen Berk.
In September 1980, we engaged Cantor Richard Nadel, and much new music reinvigorated our temple. Rabbi Levine retired and became Rabbi Emeritus, and Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank became our new spiritual leader in September, 1987. Our temple was well equipped to move into the 1990s.
An unusual fundraiser was held on November 23, 1986. One of our Torah Scrolls was checked and rewritten by a scribe and rededicated by our members. Congregants joined the scribe on the bimah as their portions were written as part of a full day's service. The event was chaired by Elliot Merkin and Selig Adler.
A different kind of Torah Scroll was dedicated in our temple on November 4, 1990. DorisAnn and Fred Markowitz had traveled to Westminster Synagogue in London to obtain a Holocaust Torah, one of the many rescued from a Nazi warehouse in the former in 1991, we began to explore the possibility of creating a ballroom with an exclusive caterer to bring more of our lifecycle celebrations into our building. In 1994, we found our caterer and launched a successful $1.7 million capital campaign; in 1997 we completed our new ballroom and total renovation, including additional classrooms and offices.
In the summer of 1999, Rabbi Mark Mallach, his wife Genya, and daughters Elana and Ester joined our congregation. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological seminary of America, and was ordained in 1994. He previously served congregations in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Livingston, New Jersey. Rabbi Mallach is also a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. He is the first registered pharmacist to become a conservative rabbi.
On January 13, 2008, Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Union led by Rabbi Meyer Korbman, closed its doors and merged with Temple Beth Ahm. In addition to bringing its Torah scrolls (except for one, donated to the Highland Park Minyan), Temple Israel installed in its new home its yahrzeit plaques, which were affixed to the walls of the temple, along with artwork and Holocaust artifacts. The post-merger congregation became known as Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael.
What its members brought was memories. Temple Israel — originally known as Temple Israel of Irvington, Maplewood, and Union — began in a storefront in Irvington. It moved to Morris Avenue in Union in the early 1960s; at its peak, membership reached as high as 500.
In a procession to mark the union, congregants drove the Torah scrolls from Temple Israel to Temple Beth Ahm. As each one arrived, it was greeted with a blast of the shofar. Then the sifrei Torah were marched down the sanctuary’s center aisle, welcomed by singing children and more shofar blasts.
In 2011, Rabbi Cecelia Beyer became associate rabbi, education director, and director of liturgical arts. Prior to joining our family, she served as the assistant rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights, New York. Cecelia was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary in May 2010, where she pursued a concentration in sacred music as part of her studies.
The events, the accomplishments, the meetings, the classes, the discussions … they come ringing down through the years like hundreds of little bells jogging our memories. Many ideas have been tried, continued, discontinued only to be tried again ... nursery school, a Religious School PTA, chavera groups. But most of all, there are the people. It is impossible to include every name, but the story of Temple Beth Ahm is just that: the story of a house of people, many individuals and what they accomplished when they came together to form a Jewish community. How wonderful it is to look back on the people who had the courage to form a Jewish group in that different time in 1952, and how they adapted themselves over the years to change in both the Jewish world and the world at large.