Temple Shirat Shalom, Lehigh Valley’s Newest Synagogue
Cantor Ellen Sussman leads Temple Shirat Shalom, which meets at The Swain School in Salisbury Township.
When Temple Shirat Shalom held its first service July 1 in rented space at The Swain School in Salisbury Township, its leaders expected 100 people to show up --- 167 attended that evening.
That told its founders the idea they had six months earlier was viable--- to create a new synagogue in the Lehigh Valley in the Reform tradition.
Temple Shirat Shalom (shirat shalom is Hebrew for song of peace) has attracted congregants from South Whitehall, Upper Macungie, Emmaus, Easton, Macungie and Saucon Valley.
“We wanted to create something new that was more family and community-based, with a mix of traditions as well as new ideas,” says Elliot S. Gluskin, vice president of the synagogue's board of trustees, who lives in Upper Macungie.
Temple Shirat Shalom, which does not have a rabbi, is led by its cantor, Ellen Sussman, one of only 18 cantors nationwide leading a congregation. Sussman was the cantor at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown for 18 years.
“We wanted to have something that was really hands-on. People wanted to become involved in the expression of their Judaism,” Sussman said. At Temple Shirat Shalom, laypersons lead the service and read the Torah.
Sussman, who lives in South Whitehall, is a 1982 graduate of Hebrew Union College in New York, one of the first classes that accepted women. On the board of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley and the Jewish Day School, Sussman also serves on the board of the American Conference of Cantors and is president of the Delaware Valley Cantors Council.
Gluskin says Temple Shirat Shalom plans to add a full-time rabbi and after three years will apply for membership in the Union of Reform Judaism. They are looking for a location for a religious school and will also seek a permanent home.
In the meantime, the large open space rented from Swain includes access to an outside patio and the kitchen. “They have been extraordinarily gracious in providing us a home,” Gluskin said.
After promising numbers at the first service, attendance dropped to 87 people then leveled off to about 50 the following two Fridays, Gluskin said, which he attributed to people going away for the summer.
Friday night services begin at 7, with the exception of the first Friday of the month, when a wine-and-cheese reception at 6:30pm precedes services. High Holy Day services will be held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown.
The temple’s website will be at www.templeshiratshalom.org. For information, call 610-624-1690.