For years, the JT has been writing about synagogues that have repurposed their spaces — bringing in tenants ranging from community theaters to Jewish day schools, and renting out their buildings for bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings. For some congregations, it helps bring in extra money on days when the synagogue would otherwise be empty, while for others it makes use of space in buildings that have become too large for them.
But at Beth El Congregation, a different repurposing has taken place: Onetime classroom space has been reimagined into The Soul Center, a relatively new entity that aims to bring mindfulness, healing and rejuvenation to people with a Jewish twist. The center, which is the subject of this week’s cover story by Susan C. Ingram, was envisioned to engage those who identify as “spiritual” but not necessarily religious, with offerings such as yoga, meditation, caregiver support groups, challah braiding and more.
Giving people a break from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives appears to be working — more than 5,000 people have participated in 300-plus programs since the center’s 2016 opening, and roughly 40 percent of participants were not members of Beth El. The Soul Center seems to have found a niche in an era of declining affiliation — addressing people’s spiritual needs outside of a traditional Jewish context, but with a decidedly Jewish emphasis.
In other news, we bring you an update on former Temple Oheb Shalom Rabbi Steven Fink, who was expelled last week from the Central Conference of American Rabbis. This follows his termination by Oheb after allegations of sexual impropriety, though Fink continues to maintain his innocence.
Also this week, we kick off our 100th anniversary year. You may have noticed the anniversary logo on the cover, and on page 13, you can read the first installment of our new weekly Flashback column, with Connor Graham kicking it off by looking at the very first issue of the Jewish Times from Sept. 24, 1919. Each week in 2019 we’ll look back at previous JT issues — what we were covering, advertisements of yesteryear and the many other ways the paper has evolved and changed over the last century.
And stay tuned for plans on a 100th anniversary celebration, as well as a commemorative anniversary issue.