Area Shuls Recognized for Community Projects, Ohev Shalom on Top

Members of Congregation Ohev Shalom receive their Solomon Schechter Award from Cantor Jen Brown (far left), co-chair of the award committee; Margo Gold (second from left), USCJ president; and Rabbi Steven Wernick (center), USCJ CEO, at USCJ’s Convention 2017 in Atlanta. Photo credit: Adrian Baird

Congregation Ohev Shalom in Wallingford had plenty to celebrate this month at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial conference in Atlanta, taking home top honors in the 2017 Solomon Schechter Awards.

The USCJ received more than 180 submissions nationwide in the competition, which recognizes “initiatives that shape an authentic and dynamic experience of Conservative Judaism.” The Delaware County synagogue was chosen for two of its projects, and took home the Highest Award for Innovation and Impact in the Prophetic Voice category for its Fellowship of Urban Suburban Engagement (FUSE) initiative.

Other local winners included Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, N.J., and Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, N.J.

About three years ago, Ohev Shalom’s Rabbi Jeremy Gerber joined with community organizer Cory Long to create FUSE, which brings together different religious communities and congregations, community groups and nonprofits to build relationships.

“We get together for conversations about racism, about white privilege, about community responsibility, about how we can support one another and not have it sort of be one way but really creating a community,” Gerber said. “It’s really about forming a relationship of equals to whatever extent we can.”

It helps push others beyond their boundaries and see the world through a different lens. The group is made up of Jews, Christians, Muslims and everyone in between who get together for events like group discussions, a communal Thanksgiving concert or summer barbecues.

“Just the idea that seeing things through somebody else’s perspective really allows you to challenge your own narrative and just expand your understanding of how things can be perceived,” Gerber said.

He and a contingent from the synagogue headed to Atlanta where they were able to present FUSE to a much larger group and spread its message. Some attendees even expressed interest in starting chapters of FUSE in their own communities.

The synagogue also took home an award in the Torah and T’filah category for its Children of Israel Collection, a series of 14 mosaic panels in the sanctuary depicting the 12 tribes of Israel as well as one for the priesthood and one of Jacob’s daughter Dinah.

Congregants and community members could add their own trinkets — military dog tags, shards of passed down ceramic plates — into the pieces, which were put together over 18 months.

“It tells the story of our ancient history through the tribes, but also our personalized history because of all of these really meaningful individual narratives people embedded in the artwork,” he said.

Being recognized for both initiatives was “amazing,” he said.

“The work that Rabbi Jeremy Gerber, Cory Long and the entire FUSE steering committee is doing is exemplary and serves as an inspiration for all communities,” said Kehilla Relationship Manager for USCJ’s Mid-Atlantic district Jennifer Stofman. “Through relationship building and honest discussion, FUSE is working to convert the perception of a stranger into a neighbor.” 

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