Temple Hadar Israel — the last synagogue remaining in New Castle — has entered into a contract to sell its building, but its congregation will lease space from the new owner and continue to use the facility for worship and educational programs.
The building, which is situated on the corner of Logan Street and Moody Avenue, will be sold to I-58 Asset Managers Inc., a company owned by Jess Loretta Anaya, who lives in the home next to the synagogue. The company will use the building to provide occupational and physical therapy services.
Membership in Temple Hadar Israel has dwindled to 70 people, down from its heyday in the 1950s of about 300 families, said Sam Bernstine, president of the congregation. Most of its remaining members are senior citizens, and Bernstine knows that the time will come when the synagogue will be forced to close.
But that time has not yet come, Bernstine said.
“My goal is to allow the elderly, and all the Jewish people here, to practice their faith in the same building,” said, Bernstein, 59, noting that he is typically one of the youngest congregants present at services.
Bernstine has been working closely with the Jewish Community Legacy Project, which is based in Atlanta, to get a plan in place to make sure the members of Temple Hadar Israel have a spiritual home as long as there are Jews in New Castle who want one. The JCLP provides guidance to small congregations across the nation that are struggling to survive.
“The Jewish Legacy Project, with David Sarnat, and the Jewish Federation of [Greater] Pittsburgh, with Sharon Perelman … have been extremely helpful to our Temple throughout this entire emotional process.”
Two years ago, the congregation ended its relationship with its full-time rabbi, Martin Shorr, and is now led by Rabbi Howie Stein of Pittsburgh on a part-time basis. Stein travels to New Castle to lead services each Shabbat and on holidays.
By selling the building and leasing space from the new landlord, the congregation will be able to save on maintenance costs while still continuing to worship in the same space it has called home for decades.
Because the buyer is a neighbor, and “very civic-minded,” Bernstine said he is confident that the building will be well tended and maintained.
The Conservative/Reform congregation — the result of a merger in 1997 — still holds services or adult education on Friday evenings twice a month and every Saturday morning as well as on holidays. The congregation struggles at times to get a minyan, said Bernstine, and often only10 or 15 people come to Shabbat services.
Of Temple Hadar Israel’s 70 members, about 15 people are “shut-ins,” he said, and another 20 only come to services for the High Holy Days.
“My goal,” Bernstine said, “is to keep this going as long as people want to participate. We’re not a temple that’s closing; we’re simply a temple that’s in transition.”
The building’s sale is expected to be final in August or September of this year. The proceeds of the sale will be placed in an endowment to ensure that the three Jewish cemeteries in the area will be taken care of in perpetuity, Bernstine said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.