Northeast Philadelphia — once a stronghold of the Philadelphia Jewish community — has said farewell to yet another synagogue: After 113 years, Adath Zion Congregation has closed its doors and merged with Congregation Ner Zedek-Ezrath Israel-Beth Uziel on Bustleton Avenue, in the Rhawnhurst section of the city.
Adath Zion president Neil Schmerling said there were several reasons why it was time for the traditional shul to close; for example, it had become difficult to get a minyan, even just for one service per week on Shabbat, and, in addition to an aging membership base, few new families were coming in. When Rabbi Steve Sacks left the shul at the end of June to take a job in Wilmington, Del., Adath Zion's fate was sealed, said Schmerling. The last service was conducted June 28.
The synagogue, located at the corner of Pennway and Friendship streets, began merger talks with Ner Zedek in earnest this past spring, noted Schmerling, but it took a few months to hammer out the specifics, and the documents weren't signed until September.
The merger occurred in time to allow for Adath Zion congregants to join their new shul for the High Holidays, said Ner Zedek immediate past president Jack Belitsky.
He added that past presidents from Adath Zion were able to hold their own synagogue's Torahs during the Kol Nidre service.
"We sincerely welcome all of the members of Adath Zion at Ner Zedek-Ezrath Israel-Beth Uziel with open arms," said Belitsky. He said he recognized that "this was a difficult decision to make," and added that he appreciates the congregation choosing to "join the closest congregation geographically, as it will help strengthen the congregation and the Northeast Jewish community."
A Long Tradition
Adath Zion was founded in 1895 in Frankford. A thriving Jewish community in the area throughout the 1960s and '70s provided the synagogue with about 500 member families in its heyday, according to Schmerling.
"It's bittersweet," he added, "that a tradition of 113 years" had to end.
The building at 7101 Pennway St., where Adath Zion has made its home since the mid-1950s and, for the past few years, has also housed the Global Leadership Academy Charter School, will be sold. Schmerling said he hopes a settlement on the property will be reached by the end of the year.
After the synagogue building is sold, the proceeds will go to Ner Zedek, with a portion being donated, in both synagogues' names, to American Friends of Magen David Adom, an organization that helps provide emergency medical services to Israel.
Adath Zion's Torahs, memorial plaques and stained glass are already in their new home, but Belitsky said the community is welcome to attend an official merger ceremony, complete with a symbolic Torah procession, at 1 p.m. on Dec. 14.
Ner Zedek's name will be changed to reflect the merger, noted Belitsky; effective immediately, the synagogue will be known as the Congregations of Ner Zedek.
Belitsky added that although he regrets Adath Zion having to close, "it will retain its identity at our synagogue."
"This will lengthen and brighten our future," said Belitsky. "They are at home. We are now one."