‘Outpouring of Support’ Helps Temple Judea Stay on Central Bucks Property

Temple Judea of Bucks County (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Driving up to and then walking into Temple Judea on a weekday in May, you will notice a synagogue that feels very much alive. Parking spots are filled. The sound of laughter echoes up from the bottom floor of children in the Small Wonders preschool.

The only Reform shul in central Bucks County feels alive because it is…at least for now…at least for another year.

At the end of February, a Jewish Exponent Synagogue Spotlight article discussed how in 2023 and ’24 the community would “fight for its life.” A decline in membership from almost 200 households to 150 had made Temple Judea’s Furlong property too expensive to maintain. Synagogue leaders were considering a sale by the end of 2024.

But in the months since, “an outpouring of support from past and present congregants,” as an email from the synagogue describes it, has allowed the temple to extend its lease on life through June 2025. Small Wonders, which has 158 preschool students, many of whom are not temple members, will also begin paying rent on July 1, according to Sheryl Milstein, the school’s director. A benefactor bought the school, but the synagogue will still absorb certain costs like office management.

“It’s really been overwhelming,” synagogue President Len Saffren said of the support.

One family in the congregation offered to pay the balance of outgoing Rabbi Sigal Brier’s salary. Another congregant, Noel Weiss, whom Saffren had only met once before, asked the president if he could use his construction company to take over maintenance free of charge. Saffren estimated that Weiss’ largesse will save the temple between $50,000 and $60,000.

Temple Judea of Bucks County’s outdoor sanctuary (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

One donor accounted for about half the money that Temple Judea received. But Saffren said almost 25 former members and 20 current members gave in the range of $1,000 to $10,000 each.

Benefactors expressed a similar feeling: They wanted a Jewish community to exist in central Bucks County. Saffren heard from many people about antisemitism in the Central Bucks School District. In 2021, a group of district board members were slow to condemn antisemitic comments expressed at a board meeting. Board members also made exaggerated comparisons between COVID masking and Nazi Germany policies. In 2023, district leaders made a librarian at Central Bucks High School South take down a poster showing a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel about combating hate. They later apologized and allowed the librarian to put it back up.

“There was talk in the community that Temple Judea was not going to survive. It was out there,” Saffren said.

“There’s part of our culture and our history that needs to be passed along to our families,” Weiss added.

From left: Temple Judea’s President Len Saffren and incoming President Noel Weiss (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

Weiss joined the synagogue before COVID because his daughter told her parents one day that she “identified as being Jewish,” the dad recalled. Weiss’ mother is Episcopalian, and he was raised that way, but his father is Jewish. The incoming president’s wife is Catholic, and they had been raising their daughter in that tradition before she expressed her desire to connect with Judaism.

After that, Weiss talked to some friends in the community, learned of Temple Judea and attended a Shabbat service. “It felt comfortable,” he said. But he became motivated to get more involved after hearing about antisemitism in the school district, both from his daughter and on the news.

“It struck me inside,” he said. “I feel that I’m able to do something, then I really want to do it.”

Weiss’ goal is to keep the synagogue going beyond June 2025. His vision starts with the life cycle events that Jews still depend on synagogues to organize. But he knows that those events alone are not enough to convince residents to walk through the doors each week.

Temple Judea’s sanctuary (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

That’s why he’s starting “Club Judea,” a social club offering gatherings and community service opportunities. Group leaders are already planning a family barbecue night, a parents’ night out and Jewish cooking lessons, according to the email from the temple. A recent wine and cheese night drew 25 people, Saffren said. He hopes to hold these types of events once a month.

“To make the synagogue a place where people come besides services. It’s a way for people to develop connections and friendships. That’s the way you maintain membership,” Saffren said. “Too many people join synagogues in a transactional way. They join when the kid’s 8 or 9, they pay their fees, the kid gets bar mitzvah’d and the transaction’s done. We need them to think of it as an ongoing relationship.”

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