The Fifties, Sixties and Seventies

During the early 1950’s there was much activity including the formation of a post-confirmation group affiliated with the National Federation of Temple Youth; the 107 Club, a discussion group for the younger married; the endorsement of the Union’s newly proposed placement plan for Rabbis; the adoption of the newly revised prayer book for the High Holy Days; the granting of junior memberships to all young people after Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah; the gift of a bronze plaque on the outside front wall of the Temple containing the name of the Congregation and the date of its founding; the placing of new doors and new glass in the Ark; the organization of a children’s choir particularly for Saturday morning services and the purchase of robes for choir members; the replacement of the old carpeting; and two new sets of covers, one in white and one purple, donated for the four Torah scrolls. One of the most notable achievements in the history of B’er Chayim at this time was the installation of memorial stained glass windows throughout the sanctuary. These windows replaced windows that had been in place since 1864.

In 1953, as part of the Congregations’ celebration of its Centennial Year, the Mid-Atlantic Council of the UAHC and District #8 of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods held their Annual Conference in Cumberland. Also in 1953, Rabbi Daniel Lowy came to Cumberland for his first tour as our Rabbi. Rabbi Lowy met and married his wife Zelda (Sacks) who was a member of Beth Jacob. Their wedding was an opportunity for most of the Jewish congregants, whether members of Beth Jacob or B’er Chayim to worship together. One summer, in anticipation of Chanukah, empty milk cartons were collected in B’er Chayim’s vestry, only to reappear as dreidels. At Chanukah, all 1,000 of them hung from the ceiling!

After Rabbi Lowy left our pulpit, we experienced another period of time without a Rabbi in residence. In an effort to make B’er Chayim more attractive to Rabbinical candidates, in 1958 B’er Chayim purchased a residence at 1017 Kent Avenue for use as a Rabbi’s home. In the mid 1970’s this home was sold.

During the 1950’s and early 1960’s both B’er Chayim and Beth Jacob Congregations were experiencing a revitalization and membership growth. Again B’er Chayim saw physical changes, with the kitchen and vestry being remodeled and the Sunday School rooms being enlarged. Older Sunday School students attended many PAFTY events. Annette Brock coordinated these activities for many years. As the nation mourned the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, a memorial service open to the public was held at B’er Chayim with no empty seats.

In May 1970, B’er Chayim and Beth Jacob celebrated the first combined Confirmation service with Rabbis Meyer Samberg and Max Selinger in charge. Up until this time the religious schools of both congregations had been separate, but by this point a joint religious school operation was in place. The school alternated years, with one-year classes being held at Beth Jacob and the next yearng held at B’er Chayim.

The early 1970’s were a period of transition between full-time, part-time and student rabbis. A permanent solution could not be found and it was decided to continue with lay leaders. By 1974/1975 a merger with Beth Jacob was considered, in the interim time period Rabbi Levin was retained on a bi-weekly basis. New torah covers, and new prayer books, “The Gates of Prayer,” were purchased as the congregation considered its situation. A search was initiated to find a Rabbi who might serve both congregations, rather than a merged congregation. Rabbi Edwin Schoffman came to both pulpits in 1975.  As part of his contract he officiated at Friday evening Shabbat services at both Beth Jacob and B’er Chayim, separately. Rabbi Schoffman led High Holiday Services on an alternating year basis as well, and in the year that he was not available for leadership, an individual would be hired through either the Reform or Conservative Movements to provide services.

Rabbi Schoffman walked a very delicate line between the two congregations, trying to be all things to each, and usually accomplishing this task. He was very involved in the combined Religious School, and was instrumental in helping forge a sense of shared purpose between the two congregations. While differences still ensued over religious definitions, most congregants were able to find common ground when it those children worked together to find solutions for problems encountered along the way, a sense of a larger community was instilled.

As part of the 125th anniversary celebration in 1978, new outside lights were installed and the original lights were donated to History House where they adorn the gardens. B’er Chayim Temple was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, new high holiday prayer books were purchased, new torah covers donated, and memorial trees on the Union Street side of the temple were planted.