Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim Celebrating 50th Anniversary This Year

Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim (Courtesy of Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun)

In 1973, Temple Beth Tikvah in Erdenheim merged with B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue of Mt. Airy. The merger came together after Beth Tikvah had gone through “a dramatic drop in membership,” according to

It’s still going strong today.

And in 2024, Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim will celebrate its 50th anniversary. On March 8 and 9, Shabbat services and a Saturday night gala at the Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue will welcome current and former members, according to synagogue president Alana Dunoff.

“We’re celebrating where we are and looking to where we’re headed,” she said.

The Conservative synagogue has 210 households in its congregation, according to Dunoff. That number was around 250 before the pandemic. But in 2023 for the first time since before COVID, it held steady.

BT BJ also has 101 students in its religious school and more than 60 in its Early Childhood Center, according to Dunoff. More than 100 people attend Shabbat services when there’s a bar or bat mitzvah at the synagogue that weekend. Between 10 and 20 people show up on other weekends.

Dunoff, Executive Vice President Beth Schwartzman and Marla Sones, a past president and a member of the board of directors, discussed the state of this union at 50 years.

“We are very fortunate in that we have multigenerational membership,” Dunoff said.

“People don’t hesitate to walk up to you, introduce themselves, find out about who you are. They want you to be welcome,” Schwartzman said. “We want people to feel comfortable and we are open to however you celebrate your Judaism.”

“It’s a place to explore social justice and learning and celebrating good times and bad times,” added Sones, a member for 35 years.

Like Sones, Burt Abrams is a past president and a board member. Abrams is old enough to remember the merger between Beth Tikvah and B’nai Jeshurun.

Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun members at an outing at Camp Harlam (Photo by Alana Dunoff)

At the time, everyone knew who came from which congregation, according to Abrams. It’s not like that now.

“Most of our members have joined much after 50 years ago. They’re just members of BT BJ,” Abrams said. “What’s the state of the merger now? I would say it’s complete.”

In 1977, BT BJ opened its preschool, according to In 1997, it added “summer camp, kindergarten and tot programs.” Four years after that, it established a program for “our teenage population.” By 2008, the synagogue was starting an extended care program for children “ages 12 months to pre-K.” Then in 2009, BT BJ renamed its preschool the Early Childhood Center. It was serving children as young as three months old.

Between 2017 and 2021, the synagogue’s longtime cantor, Arlyne Unger, and rabbi, Saul Grife, retired. That left this surviving community to two leaders who were already in the building, Rabbi Roni Handler and Cantor Benjamin Greenfield.

“Watching Rabbi Roni and Cantor Benjamin develop the rapport and relationship they have with each other and the community has been amazing,” Schwartzman said. “They make it a welcoming and personal experience.”

Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun students at a synagogue activity (Photo by Alana Dunoff)

In recent years, the spiritual leaders have introduced Shabbat dinners at BT BJ on the first Friday of each month, according to Dunoff. Rabbi Handler started a Torah study group that applies the lessons of the parshahs to the modern day. Some adults in the community have expressed interest in launching an adult Sunday school.

“We’re working on putting that together,” Sones said.

Dunoff is hoping that membership continues to hold steady and perhaps grow. She believes that BT BJ’s reputation is appealing to Jews who are figuring it out.

“When you walk in our door, you’re not going to see a fancy synagogue,” she said. “You’re going to see a low-maintenance facility that tries really hard to use all their assets.”

Abrams said the congregation’s goal should be to build back toward 250 households. Sones explained that they are trying to offer programs to convince preschool families to stay. Hopefully, they decide to join the parents’ groups in the schools, the men’s club, or the sisterhood, according to Dunoff.

“One of the things I think is special about BT-BJ is we’re a community that shows up. We show up for big things. We show up for little things,” Schwartzman said.

Early in the executive vice president’s time as a member, she was sitting shiva for her mother. She barely knew her fellow BT BJ congregants at the time. Many of them showed up for shiva anyway.

“If all these people who don’t know me are here to support me, I can give something back,” she said.

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