Expansion in the '80s
Almost as soon as the decade had begun, the temple found itself planning for another celebration: the 25th anniversary of Rabbi Weissberg’s service to the synagogue. It was decided that he would be honored with a special Shabbat service to commemorate his efforts to instill his ardent love of Jewish ritual within the Beth-El community.
At the suggestion of Mr. Hellmut Spitzer, a member of the synagogue and the Bel Canto Society, the temple commissioned Max Janowski, the noted Jewish liturgical composer and music director of KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park for 53 years, to create an original piece of music inspired by the Sabbath liturgy to honor Rabbi Weissberg. The result was a beautiful and melodic resetting of “R’tsey Vim’nuchateynu”, which was taken from the Erev Shabbat Ma’ariv and Shabbat morning Shacharit services for solo voice, chorus, and organ. The prayer speaks of the sanctity of Shabbat and expresses hope that those who keep the Sabbath shall be comforted and find rest through their service to God.
Mr. Janowski’s composition was performed at Temple Beth-El on April 25, 1980, as part of the Shabbat program honoring Rabbi and Tamar Weissberg for their quarter-century of service. The music was later published together with the text of the dedication that was presented to the Weissbergs on erev Shabbat. Praising the Weissbergs’ spirituality, gentleness, and tireless commitment to the congregation, the dedication was an eloquent mark of Temple Beth-El’s trust and respect for its spiritual leader and his wife and co-worker.
While the temple was affirming one of its rabbi’s commitment to remain with the synagogue, its other rabbi, Steven Bob, was preparing to leave Beth-El in search of a pulpit of his own. Rabbi Bob left in 1981 to become the leader of Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, Illinois, a position he still holds today. Beth-El found a new assistant rabbi in Robert Goodman, who became an important contributor to one of the temple’s most important initiatives: the commissioning and writing of a new sefer Torah.
The Temple Beth-El Torah Project began raising funds in 1980 for the creation of a new Torah scroll for the synagogue, which was slated to be written in 1981-1982. The project, headed by Annabelle and Nathan Hoff and greatly aided by a generous gift from the Naxon Family, was meant to engage the entire congregation, with individual members and families pledging their financial support by underwriting special sections of the sacred text. This mission was overwhelmingly accomplished as funds were raised well beyond those necessary to inscribe the Torah scroll. Today, these funds continue to support cultural enrichment programs within the temple community.
Rabbi Moshe Klein, a fifth-generation scribe from Jerusalem, was commissioned to write the Torah. Through 1981, as members of the Torah Project Committee solicited pledges from the congregation, Rabbis Weissberg and Goodman educated the temple community about the craft and ritual significance of Torah writing and the role of the Torah as the central element of synagogue life. On Nov. 1, 1981, an inaugural ceremony was held to mark the beginning of the Torah-writing process. Congregants watched in anticipation as the first lines of Bereshit-Genesis, the first portion in the Torah, were inked onto the parchment. In 1982, the scroll was completed, and today, the newest Temple Beth-El Torah scroll resides in the ark of the Rose and Bob Brown Sanctuary as an important addition to the synagogue’s efforts to “make Torah great and powerful” in the life of the membership of Temple Beth-El.