Temple Beth Am
In 1954, a group of 12 people got together to create Buffalo´s first suburban congregation for Reform Judaism, which became its temporary name. Initially, a church shared its space with the new congregation. Then in 1958 a new young rabbi named Dan Kerman came to lead the congregation. One year later, a new building was erected on Sheridan Drive in Amherst and the congregation changed its name to Temple Beth Am. The next decade saw expansion of the building with a sanctuary and a full kitchen.
When our beloved Rabbi Kerman passed away unexpectedly, a new rabbi, Steve Mason, arrived to help. He quickly captured the admiration of the congregation. With the help of Marlene and Marshall Glickman, Temple Beth Am expanded its religious school to provide religious instruction to the growing congregation.
Along with Rabbi Mason, the Temple also was fortunate to have a very dedicated and talented couple, Barbara Ostfeld and Mark Horowitz for many years. Barbara was the first ordained female cantor in the Reform Movement. She served as the Temple´s cantor until leaving in 2002. Her husband, Cantor Mark Horowitz, served as a dedicated educational director of the religious school over the same period. When Rabbi Mason left to join a Temple in Chicago, Rabbi Michael Feshbach joined the Temple for several years and he was followed by Rabbi Ron Herstik and finally Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum.
Shortly after Rabbi Tanenbaum arrived, the Temple hired a new cantorial soloist, Susan Wehle. Susan had previously been the cantorial soloist at Temple Sinai, but she left to take the position at Temple Beth Am. Susan´s wonderful voice, her loving and passionate spirit for Judaism, and her welcoming smile captured the imagination of the congregation. Her warmth and love for all people led her to make the first connections between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Buffalo. In the many programs she initiated, she brought both children and adults together through discussion to embrace a mutual understanding of one another. Tragically, Susan´s life was taken as a passenger on the ill-fated Continental flight 3407 in 2009. Cantor Sharon Colbert, who also previously worked with Temple Sinai, was selected to succeed Susan Wehle, of blessed memory. Rabbi Tanenbaum and Cantor Colbert guided the Temple through its merger with Temple Sinai.
Temple Sinai was the fourth congregational member of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and the first synagogue that was actually founded as a Reconstructionist congregation. It also was the first synagogue in the Buffalo suburbs. In 1952, a few founding families sought to bring a new type of Judaism to the Buffalo area. One that was authentically Jewish, but also unafraid to challenge tradition. They were attracted to the writings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, one of the first rabbis to look at Judaism from an American perspective. His book “Judaism as a Civilization” published in 1934 really served as a blueprint for a new model of Judaism. Kaplan encouraged participation, creativity, and equality. Read more about Reconstructionist Judaism.
About these early years, the first president of Temple Sinai, Louis Bunis wrote: “Some twelve years ago my mind and eyes were suddenly opened to what I, personally, was really looking for. This happened when we invited Dr. Ira Eisenstein, one of the founders of the Reconstructionist movement, to discuss with us the philosophy with which we are now so familiar. That very evening I realized that I could never be happy until I was able to live within that concept and work toward its fulfillment. We made good progress in these few short years. There is still much to be accomplished. I know we will go forward from strength to strength.”
From its earliest days, Temple Sinai was unafraid to challenge the status quo. In 1960, Ruth Goldman became Temple Sinai´s first woman president and only the fourth such in the country, heading up a board of 24 men and only 8 women. Temple Sinai also hosted the first national conference of the Reconstructionist movement in 1956 and at a conference in the 1960s convinced Mordecai Kaplan of the need to start a rabbinical college. Read more about the early years of Temple Sinai.
Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein joined Temple Sinai in 2008. As a warm, enthusiastic, and compassionate leader, he guided Temple Sinai through its merger with Congregation Shir Shalom. He brings a vibrant and thoughtful vision to our new home.
Temple Sinai´s rich and historic past continues to grow and touch Jewish lives as a vital and founding block of Congregation Shir Shalom. It continues as a vibrant center of Reconstructionist Judaism, believing strongly in egalitarianism and promoting religious tradition, as well as creativity in worship and Jewish life.