Synagogue to be sold due to decline in membership – Times Herald-Record

Posted By on December 5, 2020

Jessica Cohen| Times Herald-Record

PORT JERVIS - Temple Beth El was a working, thriving community when Julius Greenberg joined 42 years ago, he said. With 200 member households, they had a sisterhood, a mens club and a Hebrew school at their synagogue at 88 E. Main St.

But in the last 15 years membership declined, as has happened with churches in Port Jervis and beyond. After the death of their regular rabbi, Burton Mindick, in 2017, the congregation had part-time rabbis who came primarily for holiday services.

But membership declined drastically, Greenberg said. Two years ago, only 27 came for the Yom Kippur service, one of the most important Jewish holidays.

For the last couple of years, the synagogue had no rabbi. A lay person helped to lead services, and then the 10 people traditionally required to have a service would be lacking, and services stopped.

The synagogue was put up for sale, and now Project Discovery, part of Easter Seals, is buying the building. They have been renting space there for the past 12 years, Greenberg said.

If they werent there, we couldnt have afforded the building, he said. Theyre waiting for refinancing of other loans to complete the sale. Were merging with Temple Sinai in Middletown, and the sale money will go to them. Our members will have lifetime membership there.

What happened to the congregation, said Greenberg, was that children in the many households that had been synagogue members left Port Jervis.

They had nothing to stay for, he said. Some who did come back wanted Hebrew school for their kids, but beginning seven or eight years ago, we couldnt train them. They had to go to Temple Sinai. The last two kids were trained there.

Longtime member Michael Weinstein agreed.

Without a Sunday school, a synagogue cant survive, he said. Young Jews are not moving to the area. Its not an assault on religion. Its a demographic challenge. If Jews leave Port Jervis and theres no population influx, who goes to services?

Many in the congregation saw their membership decline as a consequence of the decline of Port Jervis, Greenberg said. So, he is encouraged by signs of new life in the city.

I love to see new businesses popping up, he said.

But after 42 years in the same house, he is moving to be closer to his two sons.

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Synagogue to be sold due to decline in membership - Times Herald-Record

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