Our story begins with the vision of a small but dedicated group of families who chartered the Old York Road Jewish Community Center in Willow Grove in 1947. We were the first Reform synagogue in Montgomery County to affiliate with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism. That year of “firsts” saw our High Holy Days service conducted at the Abington YMCA. Our religious school organized with 20 students by Rabbi Myron Weingarten; and Dr. Nathan Shank was inducted as our first President. In 1948, a new rabbi, Jay Kaufman, joined the congregation and officiated at the first Confirmation Service in May of that year.
By 1950, Norbert Rosenthal was our rabbi. We acquired our current site on Noble Hill, and we changed our name to Old York Road Temple. The 50s saw further changes and growth, but also increased stability, as Rabbi Harold B. Waintrup was welcomed to the congregation in 1951 and was to remain our highly respected and much beloved religious leader for 40 years. We completed construction of the Strick Auditorium which served as both the sanctuary and religious school building in 1959. That year, Beth Am – the House of the People – was added to our name.
In 1968, we began work with noted architect Vincent Kling to design a new sanctuary which would integrate the various parts of our building. Dedicated in 1975, the Molish Sanctuary became the center of synagogue life. Beth Am became known for its community involvement, its extensive educational programs, and the richness and warmth of its religious services.
The 80s and 90s brought us new organizational and religious staff. Marcia Goldman began her almost 25-year tenure as Executive Director in 1980; Cantor Elena Zarkh, originally from St. Petersburg, joined us in 1985, instituting unique musical Shabbat services and volunteer choirs and bands for children and adults. Rabbi Robert S. Leib journeyed from Cape Town, South Africa to join us in 1989. He has developed additional worship services for children, encouraged the expansion of our adult education programs, and supported the development of Beth Am as a Caring Community. In 2017, Rabbi Shoshanah Tornberg joined the clergy team, bringing expertise in Jewish education and spiritual leadership.
The onset of the 21st century brought major changes to the Molish Sanctuary, with renovations making it fully accessible to all. In 2004, our Temple welcomed congregants from Temple Beth Torah who brought with them a history of more than 50 years of Reform Jewish tradition. Sherrie Turetsky directs the Temple Beth Torah School of Early Learning at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, allowing us to finally realize the dream of having our own School of Early Learning.
Our newest chapel carries the Temple Beth Torah name, an integral part of The Evelyn and Ronald A. Krancer Center for Jewish Life, which was dedicated in 2008. Now more than 650 families strong, we offer an array of religious, cultural, educational and social programs to meet many needs. We are proud that we are an inclusive Congregation where individual differences are accommodated, accepted and appreciated, and where all members of our Synagogue Community participate together. Our congregation draws on a rich history as our story continues…