Friday, May 16, 2008

The Little Shul With the Big Heart

Last night, we went to the yearly congregational meeting of Melrose B'nai Israel/Emanu-El. Saul was made a member of the board over our protestations that he would not have enough time to do the job justice. We have grown fond of many of the congregants we have met over the last two years. Like many small synagogues, it is struggling to survive in its present state and cannot afford to make any large capital improvements. One of the capital improvements that is sorely needed is to have a bathroom for handicapped people on the same floor as the sanctuary. Right now, using the bathroom requires a person who cannot negotiate the stairs to be placed in a stair glide, twice, once for each of the two sets of stairs, and to be raised and lowered slowly to the required level. It is a slow process, requiring assistance, and can only take one person at a time.

This is a really aged population of congregants, for the most part. Saul and I are considered young ones, and Saul is 61! Those with young families are extremely committed to raising their children with a Jewish family lifestyle, not merely dropping them off to be educated by others. Many of the older congregants are founding members of this congregation who have been there raising their families together for 50 years. Most have a genuine affection for each other that is rare to see in congregations today. Many can no longer attend services because climbing the stairs has become too difficult and the possibility of embarrassment while having to wait for a single-person stair glide too likely. Putting in a bathroom in place of a coat room would cost about $36,000. It is a solidly middle class congregation with no wealthy angels that could easily make this happen.

Yesterday, Ari, who went to Akiba Hebrew Academy for a few years, told me of an article in Ha'Aretz about the flap over the renaming of the school and the questionable practice of The Jewish Exponent in reporting it. The whole thing involved a donation of 5 million dollars. It struck me as very ironic that the Federation, which doles out money to support all kinds of extracurricular Jewish activities all over the area, never seems to come to the rescue when it comes to supporting middle-class older people who just want to stay in their homes, in their neighborhood, support their synagogue, and maintain the place where they have always prayed.

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