The Synagogue Merger

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A.  Falk & Dr. Gerhard Falk


From Temple Emanuel to Congregation Beth Zedek


   There have been many changes in our Buffalo Jewish Community since we arrived here into our new and permanent home.  Not only has our population become smaller, we have changed as well.  Many small synagogues have sprung up and closed and, like our own congregation, have had to merge with other temples.  We had the opportunity to alter our affiliation at least three times:  from Beth David Ner Israel to Emanuel to Shaarey Zedek,  and ultimately to join together with Beth El to form Beth Zedek. These moves were a necessity since the human shrinkage, through out-of-town moves and deaths, left little choice.  The Beth El schul was the oldest conservative synagogue in Buffalo and moved from a near downtown area to Sheridan Drive in the suburbs, which followed the Jewish population.  A few streets further into suburbia Shaarey Zedek stood, with its modern one story structure giving easy access to its congregants. The names translated are:  House of G’d (Beth El); G’d is our Savior(Emanuel); Gates of the Just (Shaarey Zedek); House of the Just (Beth Zedek).

There were many rabbis officiating in the congregations described.  The best known and most outstanding was Rabbi Isaac Klein, who was the scholar, the healer, the shining light at the time of our arrival in the Emanuel Synagogue.  He authored a number of books, the most notable a thoroughly researched manuscript which changed a number of “minhagym”, customs and directives, in the conservative movement, entitled  A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice  (The distaff side of the family was delighted to find that swordfish was found to be  kosher and could now be added to the menu of many a fish eater).  Dr. Klein had been invited to become a tenured professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.  He refused the full time position and was faithful to his beloved congregation, with which he spent the majority of his theological career of  thirty-five years.  His home was always open and his wife Henrietta was an authentic rebbetzin, who held her Isaac in high esteem, and was there whenever the members of the Congregation needed her ideas, her generosity, her hospitality and her advice.  She made efforts to protect her beloved Isaac when he was overburdened, yet did not overshadow him or minimize his position. Rabbi Klein valued scholarship and, although he was just in his relationship with each member of the congregation he especially felt close to the scholars among us and invited those with whom he felt a commonality to his home.

He also never forgot those who needed special attention and those who needed to be uplifted at any given time.  His death in his early seventies was a blow to the entire congregation, and all those who had been touched by his persona, by his very being.  No one to date was ever able to replace him, which became a very difficult situation for many of his congregants.  The multitude of rabbis who followed him were unfortunately compared to Isaac Klein and faced many righteous and not so authentic criticisms which they surely did not deserve.

Our children, Cynthia, Daniel and Clifford had the good fortune of becoming Bat/Bar Mitzvah with Rabbi Klein and Cindy was particularly blessed in having studied Talmud with this great teacher.  

During the 29 years that Shaarey Zedek has existed we saw our five grandchildren, the children of Cindy and Sam Balderman, become Bat/Bar Mitzvah there. The first was Sophia, who became Bat Mitzvah after Rabbi Stern had left and before Rabbi Shalman arrived. Therefore her grandfather conducted the Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Sophia, like her two sisters and two brothers, was educated at the Kadima school and then earned a degree in biology from the University of Buffalo and the M.D. degree at the Upstate School of Medicine of the State University of New York. Now the new Dr. Balderman is an intern at the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Her sister, Lisa, also a graduate of Kadima, earned a B.A. degree at Buffalo State College and an M.S.W. degree at the University of Toronto and is now a social worker for Catholic Charities. Her brother Joshua has graduated from Yeshivah University in Chemistry after having been educated at Kadima and Gabrielle, or Gabby, is now a chemistry major at the University of Buffalo. Benji Balderman is finishing Kadima this month and is headed for Kenmore West High School.

All of these successes have a great deal to do with Cindy and Sam Balderman, who raised such exceptional children. But they also owe a great deal to Shaarey Zedek, whose influence prevented five children from getting involved in the “youth culture” that plagues so many adolescents and drives them into drugs and failure. A Jewish education and Jewish religious upbringing are far more effective defenses against the misery to which so many young people succumb in our schools than all the juvenile courts on earth.

Now that our two congregations are about to merge, we have an opportunity to continue the traditions of both congregations even as we discard some of the less commendable aspects of congregational life so far employed.

Now we can relinquish the habit of allowing a small clique of self appointed elitists and their sycophants to usurp the congregation and institute an insidious self perpetuating oligarchy so as to create an alternative status system for the few at the expense of the many. We can now create a congregation which is inclusive, not exclusive. We can bring into a new congregation many of the unaffiliated Jews in this community who have never joined because they could not, so far, participate in the congregational governance. Now we can abolish nominating committees and instead allow any and all members to candidate for membership in committees and for membership on the board and for offices such as president, board chair, vice president, etc. etc. etc. etc. In fact, we can even abolish some of these offices and let the congregation decide our governance. We can, in the future, avoid the ageism now prevalent and let those of any age participate. As it is written in Leviticus 20:32: “Before the hoary (grey) head shall you rise and honor the face of the old man; and you shall be afraid of your God; I am the Lord”.

Here is a chance to create a congregation devoted to Judaism at its best, a congregation that includes all who come without exception, devoid of politics and ambition to be this or that officer or “macher”. That is difficult to achieve but it can be done. Our orthodox brethren have overcome these difficulties, we can do this also.

We therefore look forward to launching Beth Zedek. May it be a blessing to all who enter it and may we be the brothers and sisters we were meant to be as we are all the children of Hashem.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Fraud (2007).  Dr. Dr. Ursula A. Falk is also the author of many publications, as well as a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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