Throughout the 1930's and 1940's, Rabbi Marius Ranson prohibited the wearing of tallit and yarmulkes in Temple Sharey Tefilo. While he was rabbi, 25 families who belonged to Sharey Tefilo left the congregation and founded Temple Israel in South Orange. Herbert Weiner became the rabbi.
The newly founded temple started with only the Kip-Riker mansion, commonly known today as "the mansion". Temple Israel then added the religious school building, and lastly the sanctuary building in the early 1960's.
In the early 1950's, Temple Israel donated an original stained glass piece from the mansion to the First Presbyterian Church in Downtown South Orange. This was recognized by Eleanor Roosevelt as a friendly interfaith gesture, and she presented an award to the temple.
"(Through the years) we've had a lot of wonderful speakers", said Matty Goldberg, a temple member who witnessed the award ceremony.
According to Norma Benish, whose husband was chairman of the subsequent merger committee, prospective congregants were interviewed prior to joining Temple Israel, to ensure that congregants were compatible with the temple. Also at Temple Israel, all Bar Mitzvah students were educated by the cantor.
Meanwhile, at Temple Sharey Tefilo, Rabbi Avraham Soltes was the successor to Rabbi Ranson. Rabbi Soltes encouraged young women to have a bat mitzvah. The first bat mitzvah at Sharey Tefilo, which was in the 1950's, was the bat mitzvah of Roseann Platt, who later became director of a religious school in Jericho, NY.
In a recent interview with Ms. Platt (now Ms. Michalson), she described her bat mitzvah as being "revolutionary" at the time. Although she was reluctant, Rabbi Soltes encouraged her to become a bat mitzvah. She was not a large part of the service, but she did read torah from the Book of Numbers. Her granddaughter, who recently became a bat mitzvah, read the same torah portion as Ms. Platt did decades before!
In the early 1960's, Sharey Tefilo hired the firm of Davis, Brody, and Wisniewski to build Joseph L. Sonnenscheir Religous School, which was located next to the temple. Davis, Brody, and Wisniewski had previously built synagogues in New Jersey, in towns like Lakewood. The project cost $245,000, and included an audio-visual room, classrooms, offices, and a lounge. The original religious school was located 1½ miles away on South Harrison Street.
"It (the building on South Harrison Street) was an old mansion. The bedrooms were classrooms. One of the downstairs rooms was a library", says longtime temple member Annette Littman.
Around this time, Sharey Tefilo decided to hold an experimental rock service. It was thought to be the very first rock service.
"The sanctuary was filled to capacity", said Cantor Aronson, "It was very exciting. It was one of the first things I ever did as a cantor".
"My husband and I were literally producers of the rock service, says Annette Littman, "We worked closely with the rabbi. That was a very very exciting time. We knew we were doing something that had never been done...music put Sharey Tefilo on the map."
In 1982, Temple Sharey Tefilo and Temple Israel merged, forming the temple we know today as Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel.
On the day of the merger, "(Cantor) Aronson orchestrated the ceremonial marching of the Torah scrolls from East Orange to South Orange", as reported in the New Jersey Jewish News.
"It was a nessecery move (the merger). East Orange was becoming a very dangerous place for us", said Cantor Aronson in an interview with me.
Today, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is on the New Jersey State Register of Historic Places. TSTI is also the only reform congregation in South Orange.
Know more about Temple Israel? Attended religious school on South Harrison Street? Share your memories of TSTI's past by contacting me through the temple.