Historic Boston-area synagogues vote to join forces on shared campus

Marcy Oster

BOSTON (JTA) — Two historic Boston-area Conservative synagogues are planning to join forces and cohabit on a shared campus, following votes by the leaders of both institutions.

In a joint meeting on April 6, the Board of Directors and Trustees of Congregation Mishkan Tefila voted to sign a memorandum of understanding with Congregation Kehillath Israel, paving the way for Congregation Mishkan Tefila to move its congregation to Kehillath Israel’s Brookline campus, some four miles east and closer to Boston. The board of Kehillath Israel unanimously approved the move the following night.

The decision to co-locate requires approval by two-thirds of Mishkan Tefilah’s 200 member families, who will vote on May 4. Congregation president Paul Gershkowitz expects the congregation will endorse the move, he told the Boston Globe.

Founded in 1858, Mishkan Tefila was the first Conservative congregation in Boston. Since 1955, it has been housed on a sprawling 24-acre campus in the suburb of Newton.

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Mishkan Tefilah decided in August to sell its 24-acre property, one of the largest synagogue sites in Massachusetts, to Boston College. The campus has been home to a vibrant congregation that in the 1970s boasted a membership of 1,000 families. But its aging facilities and smaller membership presented a challenge for the future, its leaders acknowledged.

“I am thrilled by the opportunities this move presents for our community,” Gershowitz said in a statement. “(T)he way people relate to Judaism has shifted, and I believe that CMT has an important role to play in this new paradigm. The move will allow them to get out of the building management business and focus on their strengths,” Gershkowitz also said.

“We look forward to Congregation Mishkan Tefila’s leadership in areas that will enrich the broader community. In particular their high-profile speaker programs and well-established brotherhood and sisterhood will be important additions to the campus,” said David Williams, president of KI.

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” Williams told JTA. “We kept the congregation informed along the way so there wasn’t a huge surprise. The co-location concept fits very well with our existing strategy of partnering with other worship communities that maintain their independence on our campus.”

Nearing its centennial year, Congregation Kehillath Israel is a thriving urban synagogue on a bustling street in a Brookline neighborhood long known for its Jewish shops and residents. It is in the midst of a $15 million renovation, reflecting in part its expanding mission that involves a partnership with some 30 different Jewish organizations including several independent minyanim. Among its ambitious projects is a partnership to build housing for the elderly.

Each congregation will have its own board, budget and clergy, according to Williams. The congregations expect to introduce a campus council for coordination. The Globe reported that the move could begin as early as June and potentially involve sharing a preschool and religious school as well as daily minyan services.

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