The Little Temple That Could Beth Shalom - House of Peace - Celebrates 10th Anniversary
By Deborah Salomon
In the beginning were a handful of Jewish people — mostly retirees from Northeastern cities — who gathered in homes for social and cultural activities.
Their children and grandchildren visited, appreciated the climate, played golf, spread the word. Some relocated. Schools were good, homes reasonably priced, business opportunities favorable.
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital attracted personnel desiring Jewish identity for their children.
"I was satisfied enough that there was (an identity)," says Jennifer Fox-Furie, mother of three, who moved from Atlanta in 1998 and now heads the religious school at Temple Beth Shalom, in Foxfire Village, with an enrollment of 26.
Leonard Tufts' covenant, as reported by Pinehurst historian Richard J. Moss, "that expressly prevented sale of property to Jews or Negroes," was all but forgotten, along with unspoken hotel practices which "developed a system of discouraging Jews from coming to Pinehurst."
Newcomers were welcomed. They flourished.
Beneath these chapter headings unfolds a story of faith, fellowship and above all, tenacity, resulting in a congregation of about 140, from newborns to 91-year-old Seth Hoders, a CPA and piano salesman who came to Moore County from New Jersey in 1977.
"We have what it takes to make a good congregation," Hoders says. "Good leadership, good response to the needs of the people."
On a cool, sun-drenched October weekend, the congregation gathered to celebrate Beth Shalom's 10th anniversary in the temple/community center, a contemporary white building with portico and skylights rising from a Foxfire forest.
This temple does not have stained glass panels like Temple Israel in Charlotte, or guitar music like Temple Emanuel in Greensboro. Or Hardlox, a swinging downtown Jewish food festival hosted by the Asheville Jewish Community Center. The multi-function building has survived a flood (Noah, call home).
Beth Shalom operates with a volunteer staff and a retired rabbi who flies in one weekend a month from New York. Yet events are so well-attended that sometimes you can't find a spot in the parking lot, says 84-year-old Ed Montel, who belonged to a large conservative congregation in New Jersey and now coaches 13-year-olds preparing for bar/bat mitzvah.
Beth Shalom's history weaves the stories of founding members into a variegated cloth, beginning with Vivian Jacobson - Chagall scholar, swimming instructor, Hebrew teacher.
"Coming here was the best decision of my married life," she says.
Vivian and husband, Ralph Jacobson, a Holocaust survivor, moved to Pinehurst from Chicago in 1989. Vivian had anticipated retirement in Israel; Ralph wanted western North Carolina. Before deciding, they visited Pinehurst.
"I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience here - a calling from God, a sense of peace," Vivian recalls.
Soon after arriving they joined a Jewish cultural group, mostly seniors, who had been meeting since 1981. Beth Israel in Fayetteville was the closest temple.
Younger families who followed formed their own group; in 1993 Jacobson initiated Bible Camp Shalom, which offered children swimming, tennis, golf and Judaic studies.
"We were two separate congregations with different priorities," says community leader Lowell Simon. "In 1999 we laid the groundwork for what is now the Sandhills Jewish Congregation."
Jacobson brought the two groups together and served a short term as president, followed by Simon, who held the position for a decade.
Swimming, book discussions, holiday dinners and golf are fine, but a religious group requires religious services, which require a sanctuary.
"Our own temple wasn't even a dream then," Simon says.
Several churches graciously volunteered space.
"Why wouldn't we?" says the Rev. Grady Perryman of Brownson Memorial Presbyterian, in Southern Pines.
Simon covered the Christian symbols at Brownson to make the space more suitable. Perryman and several of his congregants attended services as a learning experience.
By 2001 the growing congregation badly needed their own home. David Ginsberg, a Carthage businessman, bequeathed $20,000 seed money.
That same year, Jacobson arranged a Chagall in Pinehurst weekend, attended by Chagall's daughter. The $35,000 proceeds swelled the coffers.
Forty-six families gathered at The Village Chapel to discuss building Beth Shalom.
But where? The committee looked at an old mansion on Midland Road. Convenient, but too expensive. Instead, they purchased three acres on Jackson Springs Road for $33,000.
Sufficient funds were raised to finance the $249,000 project. Given the demographics, they decided to follow reform rather than conservative or orthodox observance, which created "differences of opinion," Lowell says, as did membership price structure. However, donations of time are encouraged, and no one is turned away for financial reasons.
Beth Shalom opened its doors for the High Holy Days in the fall of 2002.
Then, the parking miracle. While on-site, an unnamed member received news, via cellphone, that a business deal had unexpectedly gone through. Except in 2002 the rural location lacked cell service.
In gratitude, on the spot he donated a paved parking lot. N.C. State Sen. David Weinstein provided the torah (scripture) scrolls.
During the building phase, founders held a service at a clearing in the woods, complete with bug spray and musty prayer books. "But we were just so thankful to have this Jewish life," Simon says.
The Jewish life surrounding Beth Shalom differs from large metropolitan congregations. North Carolina's Jewish population numbers only 30,695, or 0.3 per cent, with 12,000 living in Charlotte.
Like "Cheers," at tiny Beth Shalom, everybody knows your name.
"This has a homey feel to it," says Lt. Col. Mathew Weinshel, attending Sabbath services with his two small sons, who assist with the torah scrolls. Weinshel grew up in a congregation of 800 families, in Connecticut.
At Beth Shalom, dress is casual. Interfaith couples are welcomed. This informality creates a friendlier atmosphere, founding member Kathy Poteat confirms.
"Hilarious - better than Jackie Mason" - the audience called congregation president Bernie Rosenblum's projection of temple services delivered at the Sabbath service. Personalization also encourages participation.
Jennifer Fox-Furie finds herself more involved here than she would have been in Atlanta, with a Jewish population of 200,000.
Social committee member Pola Lipson seems to participate in everything: a home-based book club, movie club and a restaurant dinner club.
"It doesn't matter if 10 people come or 28," Lipson says. "It's a way to share an experience. How do you get to know people? You eat with them."
Energy, music and outreach flow from smiling past president Mindy Fineman, who, among myriad duties, coordinates an ecumenical Thanksgiving service, usually at a local church. Temple has hosted weddings, workshops, study groups, even shows.
Despite enthusiastic lay participation, all turn to the rabbi for spiritual guidance. Beth Shalom has had several, including legendary Rabbi Floyd Herman for nine years, and his replacement, Rabbi Kenneth Brickman.
During Friday evening services Brickman noted, "This is a remarkable congregation; nobody is a native of this area. Our differences and diversity work not to our detriment but to our advantage."
At Sunday brunch Herman added, "Even if you had not built the building, the community would be strong. What you have done in providing our children with Jewish content is remarkable" - a feat not lost on 8-year-old Sasha Richman.
"I have fun with the kids," says Sasha. "They teach me Hebrew. I get to spend time with my parents."
Pola Lipson, cutting a homemade cheesecake for the reception, needed far fewer words: "It's our home."
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