After 50 Years, Temple Remains a ‘Musical, Spiritual, Welcoming’ Place

When Elaine Samans and her late husband, Edward, first moved to Broomall from Philadelphia back in 1951, that section of Delaware County was sparsely populated with only a handful of Jewish families living in the vicinity, recalled the octogenarian.

But in a familiar postwar pattern repeated in cities throughout the country, more and more young Jewish families headed for the suburbs. By mid-decade, Samans said that a substantial Jewish social network had developed, but she and others needed something more.

"We wanted a synagogue, and we wanted a Reform one," said the 82-year-old. "There were no other Jewish organizations in the area at that time."

So in October 1956, roughly a dozen or so families met on the second floor of what was then the Broomall Firehouse and decided to establish a Reform congregation. The following May, some 25 families pooled $6,500 to purchase a four-acre plot of land on Church Lane, which boasted a large house and a cinder-block building that had once been used as a stable.

Then, in September 1957 — after a summer of repairs and renovations — Temple Sholom in Broomall held its consecration service. Now, as the synagogue celebrates its 50th year, the population of the area is much larger, as is synagogue membership — it now has about 500 member families, down from a height of more than 600 in the late 1990s.

Dr. Robert and Shirley Plotkin have also been members since the very beginning.

"We walk in there and are so proud," said Shirley Plotkin, 82. "It's a great pride to us."

As part of the yearlong 50th-anniversary celebration, the congregation commissioned a new Sefer Torah, begun in December with the hope that it will be ready for the High Holidays.

Much has changed over the years; the current structure and its various parking lots have been built and renovated in fits and starts. And yet the goal of creating a community through religious experience remains very much the same.

Samans explained that when the synagogue first began, nearly the entire service was conducted in English. But over the years, as the Reform movement in general embraced some forms of traditional worship, Hebrew became a mainstay, as did the incorporation of more ritual.

'Doors Always Open'

"I like to think of Temple Sholom as a sort of sanctuary, a place where the doors are always open to all who are seeking a moment of spirituality and the ability to commune with themselves on the inside and with God on the outside," said Rabbi Peter Hyman, who's served as the synagogue's religious leader since 1999.

Still, the pendulum hasn't swung all the way toward tradition. A large marimba — a percussive instrument resembling the xylophone — takes up about half of Hyman's office. The rabbi has on occasion been known to bust it out during services, or get a band together to jam at synagogue parties.

Hyman's predecessor, Rabbi Mayer Selekman — who holds the title of rabbi emeritus — led the synagogue for 28 years. Its first rabbi was Harold Hahn.

According to Hyman and other congregants, Selekman was a pioneer in several respects: He officiated at interfaith weddings long before it was common and, in fact, received harsh criticism from sectors of the Jewish community for the practice.

Selekman was also known for making the synagogue a welcoming place for non-Jewish members, and for initiating interfaith dialogue with other clergy members. According to congregation president Barbara Mark, that tradition continues today.

Mark also added that the synagogue prides itself on the quality of its religious school.

She made the claim that — could it be possible? — kids actually say they look forward to going. In 2003, the congregation also established a preschool. It started with eight children; now, more than 40 attend.

"When people think of Temple Sholom, they think of a place that is musical, spiritual, welcoming of diversity, of interfaith families, gay and lesbian families, interracial families," said Hyman.

Nevertheless, he added, that "while we are open and welcoming and encouraging, Judaism and the principles of Reform Judaism provide our foundations, and establish the boundaries in which we work."


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