For Share Shamayim, it's the golden year

— The Bustleton syn­agogue marks its 50th birth­day this year. On Sunday, con­greg­ants will cel­eb­rate in style.

Found­ing Mem­ber Soph­ie Sil­ver (cen­ter) be­ing held by Rabbi Jean Claude Klein and Con­greg­a­tion Pres­id­ent-Elect Linda Korsin in front of the 1963 corner­stone of the Great­er North­east Jew­ish Cen­ter (GNJC) build­ing on the day of its 50th year an­niversary, Wed­nes­day, May 23, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Greg Bez­anis)


Back in the early 1960s, the Ox­ford Circle-based Temple Sho­lom was look­ing to open a satel­lite syn­agogue farther up in the North­east.

Ten couples from the Bustleton/Somer­ton area met on Ju­ly 26, 1962, at the home of Dav­id and Soph­ie Sil­ver. Dav­id was a busi­ness­man and pres­id­ent of the Great­er Bustleton Civic League who would later be­come a city coun­cil­man.

“He said, ‘Why can’t we start a syn­agogue ourselves?’ ” re­called Soph­ie Sil­ver, whose hus­band died in 1990.

The loc­al Jew­ish men spent count­less hours look­ing for a prop­erty.

“At two o’clock in the morn­ing, they were rid­ing around and found this ground,” Soph­ie Sil­ver said.

The ground was loc­ated at 9768 Ver­ree Road, the cur­rent site of the syn­agogue. Be­fore the place was built, ser­vices were held at the Sil­ver home at 9991 Ver­ree Road.

“We had ser­vices on Fri­day night and Sat­urday morn­ing, and a hun­dred and forty chil­dren came to Hebrew school in my house,” said Soph­ie Sil­ver, 87, who lived in the home un­til last year. “Some days, there was not a room empty.”

Back then, Ver­ree Road was a two-lane coun­try road. There was no traffic light at the in­ter­sec­tion with Red Li­on Road.

“There was noth­ing up here,” said Soph­ie Sil­ver, who foun­ded the syn­agogue’s Sis­ter­hood group. “It was really sub­urb­an.”

On Sept. 14, 1962, the group of found­ing mem­bers in­cor­por­ated as Great­er North­east Jew­ish Con­greg­a­tion. Mem­ber­ship reached 175 fam­il­ies in the first year.

High Holy Day wor­ship ser­vices were held in the aud­it­or­i­um of Beth­esda Pres­by­teri­an Church on Red Li­on Road.

By 1963, a new syn­agogue was erec­ted on Ver­ree Road, just north of Welsh Road, on two and a half acres of what old-timers called a “hill of rocks.” The pur­chase price was $20,000.

The fam­il­ies chipped in to make sure the sanc­tu­ary and school were ready for Rosh Hasha­nah that year.

The Great­er North­east Jew­ish Con­greg­a­tion merged in 1966 with Con­greg­a­tion Shaare Shamay­im, at 23rd and Whar­ton streets in South Phil­adelphia. The Ver­ree Road syn­agogue’s new name be­came Con­greg­a­tion Shaare Shamay­im, which trans­lates to “Gates of Heav­en.”

An ad­di­tion was built in 1971.

Over the years, the syn­agogue has had five more mer­gers and today is known as Con­greg­a­tions of Shaare Shamay­im rather than a name that in­cludes all the closed con­greg­a­tions.

“We would have needed a wider piece of pa­per to print the let­ter­head,” joked long­time mem­ber Barry Pogach.

On Sunday af­ter­noon, the Con­ser­vat­ive syn­agogue will cel­eb­rate its 50-year an­niversary. The 500 fam­il­ies who make up the mem­ber­ship rolls be­lieve they have plenty to cel­eb­rate.

“The num­bers are very strong,” said ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Jacques Lurie. “This build­ing is open sev­en days a week from day­break un­til 11 o’clock at night. We do everything from daily pray­er to Zumba.”

The Con­greg­a­tions of Shaare Shamay­im will cel­eb­rate in style.

The ac­claimed Broad­way Sings will en­ter­tain. The group fea­tures stars of top Broad­way shows.

“They’re a top draw. I’ve nev­er heard of any­one who has seen them giv­ing them a bad re­view,” said Pogach, who is the cel­eb­ra­tion’s chair­man.

Dav­id L. Co­hen, ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent at Com­cast Cor­por­a­tion, will re­ceive the Kol HaKa­vod Award.

The fam­ily of A. Nath­an Fer­man, an act­ive mem­ber of the con­greg­a­tion, will re­ceive an award in his memory.

The hon­or­ary co-chair­men of the event are former Gov. and May­or Ed Rendell and former City Con­trol­ler Jonath­an Saidel, a mem­ber.

“It’s go­ing to be a great day,” Pogach pre­dicted. “I’ve been walk­ing through the doors since 1967. It’s a big event that comes once in a life­time. And it will be a nice-size fund-raiser for the con­greg­a­tion.”

The hey­day of the syn­agogue was in the late 1970s, when about 1,000 fam­il­ies were mem­bers. But much of the loc­al Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion has moved to Bucks and Mont­gomery counties.

Still, it’s a flour­ish­ing con­greg­a­tion.

Among the reg­u­lar activ­it­ies that place on site are three daily ser­vices, a preschool, kinder­garten, re­li­gious school and sum­mer camp. Groups in­clude the Men’s Club, Sis­ter­hood, Teen Learn­ing Com­munity, Empty Nesters, Seni­ors Go­ing On and Mid-Life Ma­ni­acs.

People of all ages spend a lot of time at the syn­agogue.

“This is def­in­itely our home,” said Linda Korsin, a mem­ber since the late ’70s.

Each year, the syn­agogue holds a polit­ic­al can­did­ates for­um.

In ad­di­tion, it has wel­comed some pretty prom­in­ent folks.

In 2004, Joan Rivers head­lined a syn­agogue fund-raiser. U.S. Sen. Joe Lieber­man vis­ited in 2008 to cam­paign for pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate John Mc­Cain.

Oth­er guests have in­cluded Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ters Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu, Yitzhak Shamir and Ar­i­el Shar­on, and Ari Fleis­cher, press sec­ret­ary to Pres­id­ent George W. Bush.

“It’s been a very ex­cit­ing first fifty years,” said can­tor Don Samuels, who has been a mem­ber since 1980. “It’s been thirty-two years of change be­cause the North­east has changed. But we’ve kept a vi­brant or­gan­iz­a­tion go­ing. If you drive down Ver­ree Road at nine o’clock on a Tues­day, every light could be on.”

Rabbi Jean Claude Klein has been on staff for four years. He cites the syn­agogue’s com­mit­ment to Is­rael and re­li­gious edu­ca­tion­al out­reach to youths and adults as im­port­ant as­pects of life at Shaare Shamay­im.

“We con­tin­ue to be God’s house in the North­east, wel­com­ing to all people,” he said.

As­so­ci­ate Rabbi Daniel Wolpe, on staff for two years, said the syn­agogue serves an im­port­ant role for hun­dreds of fam­il­ies.

“Shaare Shamay­im, in many ways, is the cen­ter of North­east Phil­adelphia Juda­ism,” he said. “The staff takes that mantle very ser­i­ously.”

Lurie said Shaare Shamay­im is not just “chug­ging along.”

“It’s truly been fifty years of amaz­ing activ­ity in this build­ing,” he said. ••


Join the cel­eb­ra­tion …

The Con­greg­a­tions of Shaare Shamay­im, 9768 Ver­ree Road, will cel­eb­rate its 50th an­niversary on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Doors open at 2 p.m.

Broad­way Sings will provide the en­ter­tain­ment.

The cost is $36 for gen­er­al ad­mis­sion, $54 for re­served seat­ing and $118 for front-re­served seat­ing and a cock­tail re­cep­tion with the Broad­way Sings cast in the aud­it­or­i­um.

Tick­ets are avail­able at the door or in ad­vance by call­ing 215-677-1600.

End­Frag­ment End­Frag­ment

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