It is special year for Wise Temple. The Reform congregation has not one, but two milestones to recognize: 175 years as a congregation and 150 years since the opening of Plum Street Temple.
“It’s invigorating to see how these anniversaries have inspired our congregants,” says Project Director Jennifer Zelkind. “Every week someone new comes up with another meaningful way to celebrate our history as a congregation, a city, and a people.”
The season of celebrations, called Wise Journey, will begin with a joyous Opening Weekend on September 16-18, 2016, at Wise Center in Amberley. Scribe Neil Yerman will come in from New York as a Scholar in Residence on Friday night, and will speak to the meaning behind scribing a Torah. Throughout the year Yerman will return to Cincinnati every few weeks, leading members in writing a Hebrew letter in one of two Torah scrolls commissioned to commemorate both anniversaries.
The Opening Weekend will continue on Saturday morning with a Torah study led by Sofer Yerman. On Sunday morning, Wise Temple congregants of every age will join in a festive celebration like no other when the first letters of each scroll will be scribed together as a community.
Wise Journey will continue all year with activities appealing to many different interests, including: every Wise Temple member will have the opportunity to study with Scribe Yerman and put his or her hand to a Torah scroll that will be used in lifecycle events for years to come; honored historian Dr. Gary Zola will bring back his enlightening tour of Jewish Cincinnati, touching on interesting and little known facts about significant and surprising locations of Jewish interest throughout the city; Wise Temple will host a 19th Century service recreating the dress and music of the time when charismatic leader Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise introduced mixed gender seating and music to the service right here in Cincinnati; there will be celebrity organ concerts on Plum Street Temple’s Rockwern Organ in collaboration with Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (The organ is considered to be a significant monument of American musical history); rabbis and docents will lead Plum Street Temple tours that will bring to life the significance of the history and architecture of our city’s National Historic Landmark; a Plum Street Temple photo book will be created, highlighting professional and amateur photographs of this architectural jewel in the Queen City’s crown. The season will culminate in a Festive Torah dedication and street fair.
Nearly a hundred members have already stepped forward with their time, treasure and talents to bring these projects to fruition.
Shelley Heinen, a member for over a decade, provides a Young Family perspective:
“I wanted to be able to use some of my professional skills and interests to contribute to this spectacular, once in a lifetime opportunity.” Heinen, a marketing professional, stepped up to chair the team of volunteers. She is working hard to spread the excitement about the many programs already planned.
“I’m excited,” says Heinen. “We have some amazing activities and programs planned for all ages. We take a lot of pride in our journey as a congregation and want to share that pride and sense of community…. Our goal is to have 100 percent participation and provide people an opportunity to come together as a community—as much or as little as they want—and participate in amazing events throughout the year.”
Meryl Gruber has also stepped forward to work with a large group to create a meaningful Torah scribing experience. New to town, Meryl’s excitement about the communal aspect of the year’s celebrations is infectious. “I want to encourage other congregants to have that experience. It’s going to be different for everybody. These anniversaries are an opportunity for people to meet and work with other congregants and get more involved with the Wise community.”
This will be a season full of opportunity, reflection, and excitement. President Jonathan Chaiken says, "The Wise Journey Anniversary Celebration is an opportunity for us to continue to engage our congregants on the benefits of all that Wise Temple has to offer in the way of worship, education, social action and community."
Wise Temple’s 175th year as a reform congregation and 150 years since the opening of Plum Street Temple are significant events to Cincinnati at large as well. Isaac Meyer Wise transformed Cincinnati, over time, into the center of American Reform Judaism and Plum Street Temple is one of only 12 national historic landmarks in the city.
Wise Journey will honor the past, embrace the future, and celebrate today.