They greeted each other with hugs, kisses and words of congratulations in Hebrew, smiles and laughter in anticipation of the party they were about to attend.
Twenty-five years ago, three couples gathered to celebrate Yom Kippur at the home of Suzie and Art Rosenzweig, and they got to “kibuttzing” about how far they had to travel to attend temple services or take their children to Hebrew school.
“We started meeting informally in our townhouse in Keene Mill Woods,” said Suzie Rosenzweig, a wide smile never disappearing from her lips or eyes. “We invited a whole bunch of people to meet with us and it just grew from there.”
Now with over 330 families, Temple Adat Reyim has changed meeting places, from the Rosenzweig house to the community room above a former hardware store in the KingsPark shopping center to its current home on Westbury Oaks Court, but at the center, the commitment to families, service and friendship has not changed.
Gathering at the Springfield Hilton to celebrate the congregation’s silver anniversary, Rosenzweig said she was happy to see so many of her friends, old and new, faces she sees weekly at temple and those she hadn’t seen in years.
“Not many people have family nearby, so we’re known to each other as family,” she said. “It’s such a warm synagogue.”
Stopping by to give Rosenzweig a kiss hello and a mazel tov, Lida Kramer said the synagogue was “wonderful” because of “the people and of course our Rabbi. He’s the ultimate. He’s got such a mensche, a good soul.”
SATURDAY NIGHT’S celebration was two-fold for the congregation of Temple Adat Reyim, as its Rabbi, Bruce Aft, marked 20 years of being a rabbi and 15 years with this temple.
“This is such an exciting night for the congregation,” Aft said, joined by his wife, Sue.
The temple has had a casino night, during which Aft dressed up as Elvis and allowed couples to renew their vows in a Las Vegas-style chapel setting, along with educational programs and service initiatives to commemorate the anniversary, he said.
For Aft, the highlight of the weekend, in which the congregation chose to celebrate his time with them in addition to their longevity, came from the “realization that people really can make a difference. People realize that we’re of an age now where we’re a young adult in the community. We have the ability and power to make a difference in the world.”
Looking to the future, Aft said he hopes his congregation will continue their year-long emphasis on social action, completing ‘mitzvahs’ or good deeds in the community.
To help remind his congregation of that obligation, Aft said a visual aid will soon be in place to remind them to do good to others.
“We are building a Hillel tree,” said Murray Loew, who is designing the tree which will become a permanent part of the temple. “We are creating a tree that will have leaves with the names of every member of the congregation on them. The leaves will go up when people do community service.”
The leaves will come down during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration, Loew said. “As the new year begins, the tree will start to earn leaves. Hopefully, seeing people put their names up on the tree will encourage others to do service.”
MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION were laughing and talking the hallway outside the two ballrooms where the celebration was being held, sharing stories of how they found Temple Adat Reyim and how their lives have been effected since.
Donna Schutz, a former congregation president and member for 25 years, set up a table inside the main room to show off events the temple has had in the past.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years,” she said, adjusting t-shirts from temple retreat weekends. “Our children have grown up here. It’s been something really special. We all have a lot to celebrate.”
Robin and Dan Hamby visited several temples before choosing Adat Reyim, to make sure they found a spiritual home that would embrace an interfaith family, and have been members for 13 years.
“Both of our children had their mitzvahs here,” said Robin Hamby, and it was important for them to find a temple that would allow Dan, a Catholic, to participate in the services.
“We just felt the spirituality here,” Dan Hamby said. “Rabbi Aft’s acceptance of me meant so much.”
Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) came out to celebrate with Aft and his congregation.
“This is one of our favorite institutions in West Springfield, they’re good citizens,” said McConnell. “I feel like I’m a part of it because I’ve been here since it started.”
AS CURRENT PRESIDENT of the congregation, Glen Sherman said it was “an honor” to be a member of the temple.
“There’s a lot of people to turn to here,” he said. “The rabbi has done so much for our community … this weekend is the culmination in our festivities.”
Sherman offered his congratulations to Aft for his anniversary with the temple, saying Aft has “touched many lives,” as evidenced by the crowd of over 200 people who attended the celebration.
Before Temple Adat Reyim had a physical home of their own, they met at Burke Presbyterian Church, said Reverend Beth Braxton.
“In our Jewish and Christian community of faith, we believe we’re all brothers and sisters,” she said. “We’ve had this long-term relationship … we feel a sense of family together.”
Joined by her husband, Braxton said she was happy to be able to join in the celebration of Rabbi Aft’s anniversary.
“He is a person of integrity and has a wonderful, light-hearted spirit,” she said.