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Beth Hamedrosh All Set to Make Its Big Move

June 15, 2006 By:
Bryan Schwartzman, JE Staff
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At the site (from left): U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, Rabbi Shlomo Caplan and Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, dean of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Jack Siderer
Mounds of dirt - and a John Deere bulldozer - rested on the exposed earth, marking the spot where Congregation Beth Hamedrosh is building its new sanctuary.

But even though the ground had clearly already been broken, for the 100 or so member families of the Orthodox shul, the June 11 ceremony offered a symbolic indication that the synagogue's long-awaited move from Philadelphia to Lower Merion Township is on the verge of happening.

"All beginnings are difficult. There have been challenges in zoning, legal matters and fundraising," said Rabbi Shlomo Caplan, as he addressed roughly 200 people who'd gathered at the site. "This groundbreaking represents the end of the beginning."

The congregation, which began in Overbrook Park back in 1961, purchased the 1-acre property in Wynnewood at the intersection of Haverford Avenue and Manoa Road in November 2000. The Lower Merion Township granted the synagogue zoning approval in 2002, despite some community opposition in Wynnewood to the move.

Complicating matters, a neighbor expressed objections to the proposed height of the building.

Eventually, the congregation agreed to lower the sanctuary's cupola, and also to add additional soundproofing. Construction on the 5,700-square-foot sanctuary and 37-space parking lot is expected to be finished by January.

Until then, the congregation will meet in its building in Overbrook Park.

The synagogue had moved its administrative office to the existing home on the Wynnewood property. Now that construction has begun, the office has been temporarily moved back to Overbrook Park.

U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-District 6), State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-149) and Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners member Lance Rodgers took part in the ceremony.

"There is nothing more optimistic than a groundbreaking," said Leach, who grew up attending an Orthodox synagogue in Allentown. "We anticipate weddings of people who have not met, and prayers from people who haven't learned how to pray."

For years, the bulk of the congregation resided in Overbrook Park, but now, the overwhelming majority - as much as 70 percent - live on the other side of City Avenue.

Take, for example, Sheldon and Miriam Feldstein, who live far closer to the current location on Brookhaven Road than to the site of the new building. That means they'll have much farther to walk - they estimate more than a mile each way - to get to synagogue on Shabbat. Still, they seemed glad that the congregation would be moving into a newer, larger facility.

"We know it's coming," said Miriam Feldstein. "People from here have been walking to Overbrook for 40 years."

Looking over the construction site, 52-year-old Alan Gottfried - whose father helped establish the congregation - insisted the shul won't take its new home for granted: "A lot of effort - and a lot of hard work - went into this."

 

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