Temple Judea Remains a Spiritual Center for Doylestown-Area Residents

Temple Judea of Bucks County (Photo by Lori Bergman)

When it opened in 1959, Temple Judea of Bucks County became “the first synagogue in Doylestown” and “the first Reform synagogue in Bucks County,” according to a 2019 Bucks County Courier Times article. Today, the shul has 150 member families and a building at 38 Rogers Road in Furlong, its home for the last 10 years.

But in 2023 and 2024, the community will fight for its life.

A decline in membership since 2019, from almost 200 households to the current number, has made the Furlong property “too burdensome,” Treasurer Joel Weiner said. At a congregational meeting in January, shul leaders informed members that they were going to look into selling the building by the end of 2024. The almost two-year timeline would give the congregation time to figure out its next move.

But it was what happened over the rest of that meeting that gave everybody in the room hope. One after another, people got up and said they wanted to figure out that next step. It was important to them to “stay together and continue the tradition of Temple Judea,” according to President Len Saffren.

“No matter where we were in the physical space, we were a community,” Saffren recalled of the message he got from congregants. “I found that to be the most heartening piece of information.”

It also made practical sense. Sixty-four years on from its founding, Temple Judea plays the same important role that it did in 1959. It’s a spiritual center for the Reform Jews of Warwick, Chalfont, Warrington and other towns in the Doylestown area. Central Bucks has a Jewish population but not many synagogues. Lower Bucks has Shir Ami in Newtown, Ohev Shalom in Richboro and several others. But as you drive north in this county of more than 600,000 residents, it’s Temple Judea, the Conservative Tiferes B’nai Israel in Warrington, the Reconstructionist Kehilat HaNahar in New Hope and the Chabad Lubavitch of Doylestown. That’s it.

So even though Temple Judea’s membership is declining, it is getting younger, according to Weiner. The base includes 86 religious school students and 50-60 religious school families. Weiner estimates that a third of the shul’s congregants are Hebrew school families. There are also 156 kids in Temple Judea’s Small Wonders preschool, though not all of them are synagogue members.

The Bucks County synagogue is also attracting a key group in Jewish community life today: interfaith families. Saffren said 35-40% of Temple Judea’s congregants are interfaith households.

“We play a very significant role in Central Bucks,” he added.

Tom Gibson, 45, is Catholic but he’s been a member of Temple Judea for 20 years. As Gibson explained, he married a Jewish girl, his wife Kim, and while he was not comfortable converting, he was secure in raising their three children Jewish. Today, Gibson is a board member at Temple Judea, and his first two kids have celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs there. His youngest daughter is 11 and on her way to starting that same process.

“I want to make sure this community stays in place,” Gibson said.

Janna Fisher, 43, feels the same way even though she only joined last year. Her 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son just went through Small Wonders. But now that Fisher’s daughter is in third grade, the family has to join to send her to the Hebrew school, according to synagogue policy. The Furlong resident is happy to do it. She had a Jewish community growing up and she wants the same for her kids.

In Hebrew school, you make Jewish friends who understand you. It’s not public school where you always have to explain yourself. Fisher believes that it’s important to have that safe haven, especially in an era of rising antisemitism. The Central Bucks School District in recent years has been too permissive of a culture of antisemitism, according to some Jewish parents in the district. And district leaders took down a poster in a school library that showed a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, only to apologize later and put it back up.

“When there’s so much going on in the world, it’s nice to have a central place where other people have similar beliefs as you, similar traditions as you,” Fisher said.

The synagogue’s plan moving forward, according to Weiner, is to sell the Rogers Road property and use the equity to pay for a new home. It will be in the Doylestown area since that’s where most congregants live.

“People want this temple. They want to be a community. And that’s not going to go away,” said Lori Bergman, the temple’s director of education. ■

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