Kol Ami Echoes Voice of the People

Longtime M’kor Shalom member Steve Friedman at the new and unified Congregation Kol Ami in Cherry Hill. (Photo by Sharla Feldscher)

On June 26 at M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Rabbi Jennifer Frenkel took the Torahs out of the ark and handed them to the seven past presidents standing on the bimah. The group then joined hundreds of their fellow congregants in marching about two miles from their Evesham Road home to their new home: Temple Emanuel on Springdale Road, also in Cherry Hill.

Later that day, two of South Jersey’s biggest Reform synagogues unified under the name of Congregation Kol Ami, which means “voice of my people.”

The new community of about 700 families held its first Shabbat service on July 1. Frenkel, the former leader of M’kor Shalom and the new senior rabbi of Kol Ami, led the service from the bimah.

Marylee Alperin, who with her husband Stuart Alperin was one of the founders of M’kor Shalom in 1974, watched Stuart accept one of the Torahs from Frenkel as a past president before the march to their new temple. Then the couple walked to Springdale Road together.

“It was beautiful,” Marylee said.

The Reform temples are unifying because it just made sense, according to leaders from both institutions. M’kor Shalom and Temple Emanuel saw their respective memberships decline from over 1,000 to about 300 to 350 in recent years. In becoming one, they could add members, sell M’kor Shalom’s building and devote their resources to a single location.

The June 26 “March of the Torahs,” as a press release described it, was the culmination of a two-year process made possible by the retirement of Rabbi Jerome P. David, who led Temple Emanuel for 47 years. David’s decision allowed Frenkel, who was ordained in 2009, to become the senior rabbi of the unified congregation.

But even with their senior rabbi role figured out, the synagogues would not have proceeded without the support of their congregants. On Jan. 24, 98% of them voted to come together, according to former M’kor Shalom president and Kol Ami co-president Drew Molotsky. A few weeks ago, about 300 members marched together with the Torahs. The new name was submitted by a congregant.

“I believe that change is a good thing,” said Amy Sussman, a Temple Emanuel member for 11 years. “I’m excited to make new friends and make our community larger.”

The Lieberson family on the “March of the Torahs” to the new Congregation Kol Ami in Cherry Hill on June 26. (Photo by Sharla Feldscher)

For M’kor Shalom congregants, the change was a little more bittersweet, as they were leaving their building. Sharla Feldscher, a Voorhees resident and PR executive who wrote the release about the “March of the Torahs,” was a member at M’kor from the beginning.

She sang in the choir there for over three decades; her daughters were confirmed there; her granddaughter went to preschool there.

During the last Shabbat service in the building on June 24, Feldscher and other choir members cried and hugged. They looked out at fellow members, who looked back.

“It was a love fest,” Feldscher said.

But the M’kor alum is also “excited” to become a Kol Ami member. She said she’s looking forward to meeting new people.

Two days after that final service, she watched the presidents place the Torahs in the new ark at the conclusion of the “March of the Torahs.” At that moment, “it felt like we were a part of it,” Feldscher explained.

Marylee Alperin felt the same way. She called the transition “difficult at first.” But she kept reminding herself that she wanted all of their efforts over the years to live on.

“We must perpetuate Judaism,” Alperin said.

If the last Shabbat service at M’kor Shalom was emotional, the first one at Kol Ami was hopeful, according to Sussman. People were saying hello to each other and starting conversations.

“It was different, but it was a good different,” she said.

Hundreds of M’kor Shalom members marched to Temple Emanuel to join their synagogues as one on June 26 in Cherry Hill. (Photo by Sharla Feldscher)

The 39-year-old is part of a group of about 15 Emanuel families called “the up-and-comers.” The parents are around Sussman’s age and the kids are going through preschool, religious school and Jewish life at the Cherry Hill temple.

The Sussmans moved to South Jersey because they wanted their two children to “grow up in a more Jewish area,” the mom said. Susan Marinoff, 40, joined Emanuel with her husband and three children because she always felt more connected to her Jewish friends growing up, and she wanted the same thing for her own kids.

Rob Baron, another “up-and-comer” at Emanuel, also said it was important for his two children to grow up in a synagogue. Now, with the two temples unifying, Reform Judaism in South Jersey will have “strength in numbers,” he said. That strength will give his kids “a place they can call home.”

“It’s every parent’s hope,” Baron explained. “So that when they leave the house, they take those ideals with them and build their own life in Judaism.” JE

[email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here