For the next two months, Kether Torah Congregation, whose synagogue building on Bartlett Street is owned by its neighbor, Hillel Academy, will be holding its Shabbat and holiday services at the day school.
But the arrangement may become permanent.
“Kether Torah is doing an eight-week trial period of holding its Shabbos minyan at Hillel,” said Daniel Kraut, CEO of Hillel Academy. “They are testing it out.”
Kraut sees the potential of moving the congregation to Hillel as a way to utilize the academy’s resources more fully, while providing a collaborative opportunity for both institutions.
“We have a gorgeous beth midrash, which the students use during the week,” he said. “We would like to have it be used on Shabbos, too. I want the building to be used 24/7.”
Hillel has also provided a designated space in its cafeteria for the congregation, which it will use for its kiddushes and meals.
“It’s just a trial,” Kraut said. “We will see if both sides feel comfortable. Hopefully, it’s going to work out.”
The Kether Torah synagogue building, which is over 100 years old and in need of many repairs, was gifted to Hillel by its members Charles and Frank Rice some years ago, Kraut said.
“It’s nice when two institutions can get together,” he said, adding that if the move becomes permanent, he would like to see some collaborative Shabbatons involving the Hillel students and members of Kether Torah.
Hillel currently has no plans for the synagogue building should Kether Torah decide to move permanently to Hillel, Kraut said.
Kether Torah President Philip Milch sees the move to Hillel as a positive change for the congregation.
“We’re getting a nice place for shul [with the potential move to Hillel] when the building on Bartlett is old and run down, and it’s not getting any better,” he said.
When the Kether Torah building was gifted to Hillel, Milch explained, Hillel agreed to provide a place for its congregation to hold services for 99 years.
“This is a way to consolidate resources,” Milch said. “And Hillel has been very welcoming. This may provide Hillel with an opportunity to do something better with that property.”
Because there is more space at Hillel, Milch said there would be an opportunity for the congregation to expand some of its offerings.
“We will be able to have youth minyanim, and kids programs,” he said.
Sharing space with Hillel, Milch added, may be the best use of community resources.
“We’re not a full-service shul,” he said, noting that the congregation only holds services on Shabbat and holidays, but not during the week. “You don’t want to be a drain on community resources. To some extent, this will be a consolidation of resources.”
While some members of the small congregation were reluctant to make the move, perceiving it as a forfeit of autonomy, at least one member came away from the congregation’s first Shabbat at Hillel with a more positive perspective.
“I was skeptical about the move,” said Ron Brauner, who has been a member of Kether Torah for eight years. “I was comfortable where we were. I thought it was sufficient. But I went to Hillel [for services] and it was absolutely wonderful. Some of the younger members of the congregation worked very hard to set up our shul at Hillel, and it was utterly remarkable. I couldn’t believe it.
“Now I am okay with the move, and I have no desire to go back,” he added. “This is no temporary trial marriage as far as I’m concerned. This is it.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)