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Judaism adapts in Rockford

ROCKFORD (AP) — The Rock River Valley does not have the numbers to fill two large Jewish sanctuaries in Rockford.

Ohave Sholom Synagogue leaders were forced to put their building on the market when it became too expensive and too large to house its 30 members.

Their home of more than 40 years, 3730 Guilford Road, had changed from a place that once embraced teaching the conservative approach of Judaism to youths to one of a predominately older generation.

They knew they would have to eventually say goodbye to their sanctuary unless many new families joined.

"We got spoiled and reality sets in, and you're not spoiled anymore," Ohave member Ruby Lash said.

They sold the synagogue last May to the Christian Growth Center for $175,000 and started hunting for a new place to worship.

Temple Beth-El, a reformed Jewish community at 1203 Comanche Drive, answered their call by offering a classroom to rent. Ohave officially moved in Sept. 16, with members ceremoniously carrying their Torah scrolls into their new space.

It's certainly an unusual set-up — conservative and reformed communities practicing their faith under one roof — but members say it's more important to keep Judaism alive in Rockford.

"It will feel good to have Jewish living thriving in our building," Temple Beth-El Rabbi Binah Wing said.

Saying goodbye

Ohave Sholom Synagogue members left more than a building, though, when they sold it.

They said goodbye to their personal library, gift shop and kosher kitchen. They left the place that hosted a countless number of bar mitzvahs, weddings and services.

"Unfortunately, there were so many things and so many memories that they couldn't all come with us," Lash said.

And Temple Beth-El leaders felt for them.

It would be a painful to tear down ritual items from the synagogue. Permanent fixtures would have to be left behind, and the next group might use them differently.

"We feel a sense of empathy to what they are going through. This is a 100-year-old congregation that had to sell their building, a building that they had been in for 40 years," Wing said.

Ohave members are working to transform the large classroom into a welcoming place for service.

There will be rows of chairs for seating, a table for the Torah scrolls and a place for the rabbi to lecture. The antique ark will be shown under light.

"They have been great to us. They are very welcoming," Lash said. "Once this antique ark is installed, we will feel more at home."

Declining membership

It's not unusual that membership is declining within the Jewish community in Rockford.

Many religions are heavily dependent on families keeping the faith alive because they do not recruit people, said Patricia Walters, coordinator of the department of religious studies at Rockford University. They must pass these traditions onto younger generations to ensure a steady membership.

But more and more couples are entering into interfaith marriages. Others feel it isn't necessary to attend every service.

The result: Younger generations "may not know enough about their faith," Walters said.

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