Synagogue Beth Judah Symbol of Changing Times – Cape May County Herald

Posted By on August 19, 2017

WILDWOOD As the only active synagogue in Cape May County, Congregation Beth Judah in Wildwood, knows what it takes to not only survive changing trends in worship but to thrive.

As President Karen Burke explained, We are really focusing on our connection to the community. Truth be told, we have seen our numbers drop significantly but they are rebounding which is heartening, and we attribute that to doing more to get out the word to potential congregants. There is a really apt word in Hebrew for what we want to accomplish karema that means to move forward and make progress.

Burke sat in the serene worship area of the synagogue, its space bathed in light from several stained-glass windows with geometric designs.

Seating is on dark wood chairs with patina created over many decades, each marked by a small brass plaque in honor of a loved one.

Fifty years ago, this space would be filled so that would be more than 250 people. We have some families with members well into their 80s who have spent their entire spiritual lives at Beth Judah. Upstairs we also have additional seating, and unlike many synagogues, that area was not where women had to sit. Even though in the 1960s we could say the congregation was conservative leaning if not orthodox, we were egalitarian, and women and men sat together during worship.

Burke said she and others of the synagogue are working hard to devise better social media promotion and a website that will more accurately reflect the benefits of Beth Judah to changing preferences, and to think creatively, such as recruiting Rabbi Ron Isaacs who had recently retired from a synagogue in central New Jersey.

Our last bar mitzvah (Jewish coming of age ceremony for boys 13 years old; girls participate in a bat mitzvah) was at least two years ago.

"We do have some youngsters waiting in the wings to do this ceremony, so that will be new blood for our congregation.

"We also are organizing some events such as our Succoth seder that will highlight the cultural aspects of Jewish life, Burke continued.

Beth Judahs history is a reflection of economic development in the county. It is also linked to the history of eastern European immigrants to the nation, many of whom found their way to the shore and nearby communities on the mainland, especially Woodbine.

In 1891, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a wealthy German industrialist used his fortune from his business, banking and railroad endeavors to support the exodus of Jews persecuted by the pogroms of the Russian czar.

Through a multi-million dollar fun, he established for the purpose, about 5,300 acres of land were purchased in Dennis Township for settlement of those refugees with the area eventually evolving into what became the Borough of Woodbine.

These settlers lived in Woodbine in the winter and migrated to Wildwood in the summer. There, they pursued the better potential of business opportunities at the seaside resort.

The first religious service officially tied to Beth Judah, Rosh Hashanah, was held in 1911 at the home of a congregant with 10 families in attendance.

It is from that modest beginning that the congregation and house of worship known as Beth Judah developed into a magnet for those of the Jewish faith numbering hundreds of families by the late 1960s.

During the 1960s many Jewish families had businesses along Pacific Avenue where the synagogue is located.

"They had thriving commercial enterprises and were the backbone of the economy including during the summer. They lived above their stores and were the reason for the numerous programs the synagogue organized for all ages.

"With time, however, the next generation moved on to professional careers, and these businesses started dying out by the early 1980s, Burke said.

There is no doubt, concluded Burke, that the history of Beth Judah mirrors life, the ups, and downs, the good and bad. Just like many houses of worship, we are seeing challenging times, but our focus is to have a connection with individuals, whether members or visitors.

"We have an open-door policy, we welcome all, and I think we are a real treasure for the county and hope to be a destination for all those of the Jewish faith.

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Synagogue Beth Judah Symbol of Changing Times - Cape May County Herald

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