A history of our Congregation since inception
The post war period was one of profound changes in communities. Many Jews, moving westward from the Newark-Elizabeth area, settled in Summit and a few nearby towns. Several families, primarily local merchants, who preferred to worship in the Reform tradition, got together to form a congregation. Thus, Temple Sinai was conceived, and formally organized on February 12, 1952. The congregation of just forty members was led by Arthur Schwarz as the first president. William Kloner, then a student rabbi, and Dr. Edward Graham, a college professor serving as cantor, were the small congregation's first spiritual leaders.
The Temple held its services in the Unitarian Church and Sunday school in the Summit YMCA. The Temple owned a sefer Torah, a portable ark and a pile of prayer books. The first confirmation was held in the Unitarian church, as was the first wedding. When High Holy Days attendance exceeded the capacity of the Unitarian Church, services were moved to the auditorium of the Central Presbyterian Church.
The congregation moved into 208 Summit Avenue in 1957, acquiring the Todd estate for $55,000. A large addition, housing new worship space and a school, was built in 1965.
Morrison David Bial became the congregation's rabbi in August 1953. A brilliant scholar and leader in the interfaith movement in Summit, he served the congregation well until his retirement in 1985 and remained Rabbi Emeritus until his death in 2004. Rabbi Bial was succeeded by Ellen Jay Lewis, one of the first women to be ordained in the Reform movement. Under Rabbi Lewis' leadership, the congregation grew from about 280 to nearly 350 families. She currently serves a congregation in Washington, New Jersey and remains Temple Sinai's Rabbi Honorata.
Stuart Weinberg Gershon joined the congregation as senior Rabbi in 1994. In the years since then, Rabbi Gershon has tirelessly led the effort to expand meaningful educational programming for all members, while leading the congregation in worship and Jewish observance and ministering to the personal needs of families. Under his leadership, the congregation has grown to 400 families.
Over the years, the congregation has had numerous cantors including Norman Summers, Bernie Barr, Glenn Groper, Betsy Peters-Epstein, Pamela Kordan, Nancy Ginsberg and Florence Friedman. Cantor Marina Shemesh joined the congregation as Cantor in 2012. Devoted to worship through music and song and to the collective voice of choirs, Cantor Shemesh has become a favorite of the children, particularly those preparing for b'nei mitzvah.
The congregation has always been committed to the Jewish education of its children. In 2002, Patti Kahn became the school's principal. Patti has introduced new and dynamic educational programs to continue the tradition of excellence for our pre-b'nei mitzvah students and more than 90 high school students.
In 2001, Temple Sinai revamped its administrative operations and hired Angela Raio as its first full-time executive director. Angela was succeeded by Dr. Patrick Jobe in 2004. In July of 2014, Audrey Napchen became our new Executive Director.
The Temple Youth Group has also had an active program for years, with Beverly Rivkees as its adult advisor for many years. The Brotherhood, the Sisterhood and the Renaissance Group all work to serve the needs of a diverse and multi-generational membership. Many new educational programs have been implemented for all generations of learners, drawn from 11 different surrounding towns. The congregation also participates in a number of social action programs, including providing shelter for families who are temporarily homeless.
The original mansion and subsequent addition served the congregation well, but space limitations, years of use and limited access for the disabled could not continue to provide for over 400 families. In 1998, the congregation hired the firm of Claude Emanuel Menders, Architects, Inc. to develop plans for a new facility within old walls. An extraordinary Capital Campaign was conducted to raise the money needed for the massive project. As reconstruction began in the summer of 2003, our neighboring churches housed and welcomed Temple Sinai. It took just 15 months from June 2003 to complete the huge job of rebuilding and refurbishing. The first Shabbat services were conducted October on 1st and 2nd, 2004 in the new sanctuary.