Two Congregations – One Building – Creates Multiple Opportunities to Learn and Grow



 

“I know that CBI would make the same offer to us. And I’m so pleased we are in the position of doing such a mitzvah.”
                                                            Rabbi Batsheva Meiri

Rabbis and PresidentsFounded in 1899, Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) is transforming their space with a Capital Campaign “Giving and Growing Together.” After 50 years in the same building, an aggressive 11-month renovation is underway including changes to the sanctuary, learning spaces, social hall and common spaces. Della Simon, President of CBI notes, “We knew that during the construction phase of our project we would need to be in an alternate space. Our leadership considered multiple venues – primarily houses of worship. While CBI looked at renting space from several area churches, in the end it made the most sense for us to reach out to our friends at Congregational Beth HaTephila (CBHT) in leveraging our strong, long-standing relationship in hopes that they would be open to supporting our congregation during this year.

Rabbis Meiri and Goldstein were discussing at a morning coffee the plans for CBI’s renovation and temporary relocation. Rabbi Meiri noted, “I asked, what they were doing and why hadn’t they contacted us because we certainly had the space available.” Rabbi Goldstein added, “Yes, she said quite clearly and matter of factly that it only made sense for CBHT to host us during our year of renovation.  And she was and remains to be correct – it only makes sense!”

When CBHT President Karen Hyman heard that CBI needed a temporary home, she asked them to stop looking elsewhere and assured them that CBHT wanted to make it work for them to share their space. Karen said, “We had just recently built out the remaining space on our lower level, so it was perfect timing. Della and I met to work out the basic framework of the arrangement and then we were off and running. This is just the right thing to do for our friends at CBI, and it has been working out great.

Cohabitation of congregations began in the fall of this year. CBI calls Unger Hall the downstairs ‘home’ until the renovations are completed in time for the 2018 High Holidays.

“CBHT has been so generous with sharing space for us to be able to learn, pray, celebrate, and gather; the JCC has been so accommodating for our Sunday School needs, JFS has offered us use of their kosher kitchen to prepare our communal meals – all around and in every way the Jewish community of Asheville continues to show its true spirit of support and togetherness.”                 Rabbi Justin Goldstein

History of the Two Congregations Working Collaboratively

Alan Silverman, membership chair of CBI recollects, “Over the last 110 years, a number of attempts have been made to bring the two congregations together. The first was in 1913 when no less of a person than Solomon Schechter visited Asheville to try and broker a merger between CBHT and CBI (then known as Bikkur Cholim). He failed. Since then, our two congregations have talked on and off, mainly trying to combine the two religious schools. There have always been a number of families who have belonged to both and you get a sense of that when you walk around the CBHT area at Riverside Cemetery and CBI’s Lou Pollock Cemetery. The intermingling is obvious.

Congregational Leadership’s Agrees to Move Forward

Della indicated, “There was some concern about overlap of services and youth education, but once we figured out that CBHT had a dedicated space on the lower floor, we knew that it would could be worked out.

“I think I speak for the entire CBI Board and membership when I express how grateful the CBI family is to the CBHT congregation for opening up its doors, helping us to get settled and just being a community of mensch’s during this transition. Our gratitude runs deep. Thank you! “ 
CBI President Della Simon

The unanimous response at CBHT was the idea that of course we would provide the space,” notes Rabbi Meiri. “There is a long-remembered history of our congregation housing St Mark’s Church while they were renovating in the mid- 20th century. The sculpture in our vestibule is a living gift of their gratitude to us. That has been a source of pride of our congregation. All the more so, we wanted to offer hospitality to our Jewish friends when given the opportunity as well! “ Rabbi Goldstein adds, “It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that not only was it an idea with merit, but it was an idea which presented incredible opportunities for our two congregations to grow closer.

The Opportunities the Congregational Cohabitation Could Bring

Rabbi Meiri believes that geographic proximity leads to emotional proximity. “Being in the same building produces a closeness and intertwined history that I know will last long after CBI is renovated. There is already joint programming in the making and I hope there can be more!” Rabbi Goldstein anticipates the coming year will offer opportunities to learn together, work together, pray together, celebrate together, and deepen our bonds to build an even stronger Jewish community in Asheville. “Rabbi Meiri and I have already begun discussing ways for the two of us to collaborate; I believe CBI’s Social Action Committee and CBHT’s Tikkun Olam Committee are beginning to look at ways to collaborate, and I hope more and more of our committees and community members find ways to get to know one another better and work together.

Reflections of Gratitude

One thing I find myself saying, again and again, is just how beautiful it is to see the incredible ways in which we show up for one another”, reflects Rabbi Goldstein. “CBHT has been so generous with sharing space for us to be able to learn, pray, celebrate, and gather; the JCC has been so accommodating for our Sunday School needs, JFS has offered us use of their kosher kitchen to prepare our communal meals – all around and in every way the Jewish community of Asheville continues to show its true spirit of support and togetherness. I hope it only continues to grow and our two congregations continue to find more and more ways to join together and collaborate even after we return to our building next year.

I think I speak for the entire CBI Board and membership when I express how grateful the CBI family is to the CBHT congregation for opening up its doors, helping us to get settled and just being a community of mensch’s during this transition,” notes Della. “Our gratitude runs deep.

Rabbi Meiri adds, “I think it’s a chance for both congregations to show each other their best selves. And I am thrilled at the closeness which is already palpable. I know that CBI would make the same offer to us. And I’m so pleased we are in the position of doing such a mitzvah.