New Priorities Bring Members Closer

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Rabbi Weissberg capitalized on his position of leadership during his first year at Beth-El by modifying the criteria for membership in the temple and reconsidering the temple’s seating policies for the High Holidays. In the past, temple members were obliged to purchase reserved seats at an extra cost for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while nonmembers were able to send their children to religious school at the synagogue for a nominal fee without affiliating with the congregation. To the rabbi, these practices seemed inverted: temple members should have the freedom to attend services on a first-come, first-served basis without financial pressure, and nonmembers should not have equal access to privileges and resources made available to members paying in full. So, “to help the kids and the congregation be as Jewish as possible,” the rabbi enacted a switch, making all High Holiday seating unreserved and included with temple membership free of charge, but requiring families with children attending religious school to join the synagogue. This affiliation made each congregant “a first-class, equal participant in the service of God and the study of Torah.”

To further ensure that students would reap the benefits of their religious educations and be able to consider the challenges of Jewish life from a more mature viewpoint, Rabbi Weissberg raised the age of Confirmation from 8th grade to 10th grade and required that children attending Hebrew school also be enrolled in religious school. The result was a growth in the temple population, with a notable increase in youth involvement with the synagogue.

Around this time, Rose and Bob Brown were directing the Hi Club, Beth-El’s youth group, and watched it grow and develop. Yet the welcome injection of youthful energy into the community was tempered by still-growing concerns over the geographic shake-ups in the Chicago public schools. Families were gradually leaving the area, using their post-war prosperity to purchase rather than rent homes in outlying neighborhoods like West Rogers Park and emergent suburbs like Lincolnwood and Skokie.

In 1955, the need for relocation loomed larger than ever, and, when 50 families seceded from Temple Menorah (Rabbi Joseph Strauss’ congregation) to join Beth-El, the scales were officially tipped. A greater proportion of members now resided closer to Rogers Park than to Logan Square. Armed with this information, Rabbi Weissberg successfully advocated for what Rabbis Buchler and Gorin had only been able to envision: Temple Beth-El would move.

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