Bolton Street Synagogue Celebrates Reform Affiliation

Congregants celebrated the synagogue’s “exciting milestone” with music and song.

On Dec. 3, Bolton Street Synagogue officially celebrated its recent affiliation with the Reform movement this past spring with a Shabbat dinner and service presided over by both its own rabbi, John Franken, and Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Since its inception in 1986, Bolton Street has been unaffiliated. The synagogue prides itself on being progressive and open and at the time of its founding did not feel any affiliation fully represented its views. Now, however, the world has caught up to them, says Russ Margolis, the current president of the board.

“This is an extremely exciting milestone for our congregation,” he said. “It’s our coming-of-age within the larger Jewish community.”

The celebration was planned mostly by administrator Erin Bolan and Melissa Zieve, the interim director of education and president-elect of the board.

“I think the evening was everything we could have hoped it would be,” Zieve said.

A large part of the decision to join the Union for Reform Judaism was the shared values and commitment to social justice and tikkun olam, the desire to change the world for the better.

“For us, affiliating with the Reform movement, which shares the views we have, allows us to put into action our congregational missions,” Margolis said.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner

During the service, Pesner cited Jewish values and Jewish involvement in major movements such as civil rights and labor as a way for progressive Judaism to interpret traditional Jewish teachings into action in his off-the-cuff remarks, according to Margolis.

“For me personally, it may have been the most inspiring [sermon] I’ve ever heard,” Zieve said. Even better, she added, was realizing that they were now a part of the same movement. “This isn’t just this great speaker from that great organization doing amazing work. This is us.”

With the new affiliation, also comes a transition to new leadership. Zieve, who was on the affiliation committee, is set to take over as president of the board on July 1, as will a new rabbi. The synagogue is currently undergoing a rabbinic search.

Margolis is happy to have seen the congregation through this transition.

“My legacy is that we can now be connected with the wider Jewish community both for the next generation — the youth of our congregation — and for the development of our interest in social justice through participation in URJ,” he said. “And that we can contribute, in our own small way, to the spirit and practice of progressive Judaism.”

With the URJ comes resources, support and options. As administrator, Bolan has already started planning events and partnerships with other Reform congregations and is looking forward to doing more of those kind of events.

“For me personally it means we have resources available and a community out there of like-minded Jewish people,” she said.

The culminating celebration marks the end of the long process of affiliating. Now, Bolton Street Synagogue is looking to its post-affiliation future.

“It’s really about embracing a vision of Judaism that makes sense for us,” Zieve said.


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