Temple B’rith Kodesh was founded here in Rochester in 1848 by 12 immigrants (ironically, this is the same year of the founding of the Oneida Community that we visited last week), and was the first Jewish congregation in the area. At its inception, it was an Orthodox group that met in a home. Following a split in Judaism that began in Europe in the early 1800’s, the group here in Rochester made the progression to a Reformed congregation just before purchasing their first building downtown in 1909. As more and more families joined, they quickly outgrew that spot, and later purchased the current plot of land on Elmwood Ave in Brighton where the congregation has called home since the early 1960’s.
When we contacted the temple about visiting, we were invited to join a group that was already touring that day. New members from the East Bloomfield United Methodist Church were visiting to explore some of the roots of their belief system, and we tagged along with them. We’d like to thank the group, and their pastor Jeri Kober for having us along, and including us on their journey. The group was just as friendly and hospitable as the folks from the Temple were. We got there just a few minutes before the service, and joined the others on the tour. We adorned our yamakas (or yarmulke) and chose a seat far in the back. We were present for a Bat Mitzvah, which I had never had the opportunity to see before, so the entire process was brand new.
One of the questions that we had going into the visit, was what the difference was between an Orthodox, Conservative, and a Reform temple. I’m not sure we got a final answer, but many of the differences were obvious just while sitting in the service itself. Men and women all sat together, side by side, and worshiped with one another while being led by two Rabbis, a male and a female. It’s obvious that a Reform temple is incredibly more liberal about their views on gender equality, and the roles that both genders play in the congregation. It was later provided, that another noteworthy aspect of a Reform temple is their dedication to social activism. The man giving us the tour didn’t note a particular area of social activism that was important, but mentioned that reaching out to other faith communities and being open to all was something that was important to them at B’rith Kodesh.
The service lasted about an hour and a half. The reading from the Torah that the Rabbi chose inspired him to discuss the concept of how we share who we are as people. He mentioned that we put so much of who we are and share even the most mundane details of our daily lives on social media sites, that the mystery of who we are as individuals is often lost. I couldn’t help but sit there and think about how I would be writing about that on a blog, and then sharing it on Facebook and Twitter. Like most of the time, my mind began to wander, and think more about the implications of constant sharing, and whether or not the mystery of our individuality is truly lost. I don’t always do it well, but I believe that the only thing we really have in life is what we share with other people. I think the real roadblock to that is worrying what people will think once we’ve done that. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace (remember Myspace?? and LiveJournal??) and LinkedIn, and our blogs, and Instagram, and that god-awful Pinterest give us an opportunity to put ourselves out there without risk of receiving immediate negative feedback. We have discussed what we should actually share on this blog, especially since more people seem to be reading than we originally thought would. My hope is that we’re sharing just enough of what we’re doing to keep your attention long enough to read to the end, while still leaving enough mystery that you’re interested enough to go check it out yourself.
One thing you definitely should go check out is the 200+ menorah collection at Temple B’rith Kodesh. While traveling with his wife, an Army General bought his wife a menorah that she saw in a window in a shop they were passing. It became a tradition for them to buy a menorah wherever they went, and have since curated a one-of-kind menorah collection (or, candelabra in the case that the piece is not an official menorah) and donated much of that collection to the Temple to have on display. There are examples of everything from a simple mass-produced-plastic-store-bought-menorah to a Salvador Dali piece and everything in between. There is some incredible history and artist renditions that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. Special thanks to to a woman named Maxine, a member at the Temple who walked around with me and gave me a personal tour of the menorah collection. Her insight on the background of many of the menorahs was fascinating, and she taught me quite a bit about the history of the menorah itself, and the reasons behind certain aspects of it’s use.
In another area of the temple, there is a small museum featuring a number of relics from around the world, that’s also really worth checking out. I would have had no idea that a Jewish temple in Brighton, New York had an urn dating back pre-300 BCE! The museum features all kinds of things from the urn, marriage vests, menorahs, to a piece of copper ore from King Solomon’s mines in Israel.
By the time we had experienced the service, and then the tour, we had been there about three hours, and it seemed like Casey’s Bat Mitzvah’s party was only just starting. Congrats to the family on such a special occasion. Thanks to the family, and everyone at the Temple, and the group from East Bloomfield, and our tour guide Michael for letting us take part in the day’s events, and introducing us to a part of Rochester’s religious history.
*This piece was first published on www.ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict.com