PEABODY – Who knew? The only Reform synagogue between Marblehead and Andover is also the only congregation in the world called Tiferet Shalom.
These are just two of many unique aspects of Peabody’s Tiferet Shalom, which formed in 2015 when Temple Beth Shalom in Peabody merged with Temple Tifereth Israel in Peabody. From their volunteer choir to their electronic plaque system to their free-flowing conversations during Shabbat services, this growing, reinvigorated congregation is full of surprises.
“This is not your grandfather’s shul,” said President Ed Weiner. “This is a modern, Reform congregation and a leader on the North Shore.”
However, one could describe Tiferet Shalom as a descendant of your grandfather’s shuls. When Weiner was growing up at Temple Tifereth Israel in Malden, the city was 22 percent Jewish. But by the years leading up to the 2015 merger, the city’s Jewish population was dwindling, and Tifereth Israel was struggling. Many of its former members had moved to Peabody, or elsewhere on the North Shore. In order to survive, congregants at Tifereth Israel began looking to merge with the right North Shore Reform shul. Beth Shalom seemed a natural fit.
“It was a congregation with the same types of minhag, the same types of traditions, a traditional Reform synagogue,” said Weiner. “We came together because there was a perfect match, as they say in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ People liked each other … it just seemed to be the place to go.”
Both boards voted unanimously to merge in October 2015. Constitutions, boards, and temple names were combined to create the new Temple Tiferet Shalom. Despite some small inevitable growing pains, the merger was a success. Now, the congregation counts 250 families (50 more than at the time of the merger) from all over the area. “From what I’ve come to understand, they regard us in our Reform movement as the poster child for how to do a merger or a consolidation,” said Rabbi David Kudan, who was rabbi in Malden and took over the new Peabody congregation.
Many give credit Kudan for the success of the congregation since the merger. A graduate of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati who has served in pulpits in New York, Paris, Chicago, Harvard Hillel, and Winchester, Kudan has worked to strengthen community in and outside the congregation. “I feel that my main role is to try to build community and to enrich Jewish life,” he said. “We feel very strongly about being part of the larger Jewish community as well as the larger interfaith community … but our main focus is building our community from within.”
“Rabbi Kudan continues to be the right rabbi for this congregation,” said Weiner. “He is open-minded, he is willing to compromise, he knows when to mentor and when to leave something alone – he is exactly who we need to help bring us together and help us move forward towards the future.”
Kudan has helped strengthen important congregation institutions. One is the Tiferet Shalom Religious School, which serves 85 students from elementary through high school. An active parent group has helped ensure high quality teachers, curriculum, and services for students with special needs. For a time, Tiferet Shalom and Ner Tamid merged schools. Though Ner Tamid has since restarted its own independent school, the two temples coordinate the North Shore Youth Group, which brings around 30 kids together a few times a year for social and teambuilding events.
The congregation also offers extensive adult education. In addition to regular Torah study and lunch and learn sessions, the congregation brings in experts from around Greater Boston to present on topics from kabbalah to Israel to the Jewish roots of Bob Dylan.
Tiferet Shalom also benefits from active brotherhood and sisterhood associations. The brotherhood, like so many others, was declining back in Malden, but since the merger it has come back to life and drawn in more than 50 members. The brotherhood performs ushering duties, and sponsors social events like barbecues, brunches, and talks, and trips to the Red Sox Jewish Heritage Night. The brotherhood has also sponsored $1,000 worth of scholarships for Tiferet Shalom high school students. The Sisterhood, meanwhile, also sponsors various social events and fundraisers.An active social action group prepares sandwiches for the homeless each week, and helps Project Ezra and hundreds of other volunteers to make meals for the homeless and needy each Christmas. The group has also brought in speakers to teach them how they could lend their support to undocumented workers.
One unique aspect of Tiferet Shalom that its congregants emphasized again and again is the volunteer choir, directed by Music Director Bryna Tabasky, a talented singer and composer who has been with the congregation all her life. “This is a prodigy musician who is a composer, she directs the choir, directs all aspects of music within the temple – she is considered one of the treasures in Jewish music in the United States – we could not afford Bryna Tabasky,” said Weiner. In addition to performing the duties of cantor, Tabasky directs a 10-member volunteer choir that performs monthly and on the High Holidays. Often, Tabasky brings in famous musicians to perform with the choir.
Tiferet Shalom boasts not only a celebrated choir – it has high technology as well. When the synagogues merged, there was not enough space on the walls to place the memorial yarzheit plaques. Weiner worked with the congregation to install two electronic displays: a smaller one to store weekly yarzheits, and a larger one with unlimited capacity for additional names. Now, congregants can look up a family member, and their photo and family information will appear. Additionally, Weiner is helping to install stationery cameras that will be able to livestream services and events on YouTube, which will greatly help elderly or immobile congregants enjoy temple life.
“The world is changing, Temple Tifereth Israel is changing with the world, and we are becoming educated and inspired Jews in a different globe,” said Weiner.