“I think the partnership with Genesis is a unique aspect of who we are and an incredible investment that’s been made here,” Rabbi Josh Whinston said.
For many years, the conservative Congregation Beth Israel was the only Jewish synagogue in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. In 1966, Professor Ronald Tikofsky initiated a meeting in hopes of establishing a reformed temple.
Beginning with a small gathering at his home, with the help of the regional director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a preliminary steering committee was formed. Several community meetings were held and the group began to develop plans for religious worship and a religious education program. Beth Emeth, House of Truth, was chosen as the name of the new Ann Arbor community temple.
Beth Emeth Temple held its first services in August 1966 at the Congregational Church at State and William Streets. In the early years, services were led by members of the temple or by guest rabbis from the area.
As the congregation grew from about 30 families in 1968 to nearly 100 families over the next two years, they realized they needed more space.
In 1971 the congregation rented the sanctuary from St. Clare’s Episcopal Church on Packard Road.
After several years of renting school facilities and renting St. Clare’s for church services, a midweek Hebrew school, and offices for the rabbi, the congregation recognized the need for a building to house all the various temple functions. In June 1974, the Reverend Douglas Evett of St. Clare came to invite Temple Beth Emeth “to join us in this place.” Discussions with members of both congregations lasted several months and culminated in June 1975 with approval to form a society officially named Genesis of Ann Arbor.
The Genesis Partnership
This unique arrangement defined joint sharing and ownership of a single facility by a Jewish and Christian congregation. A weekend of dedication saw the installation of the Star of David next to the cross in front of the building on Packard Road. Media across the country carried stories about the joint venture.
As Temple Beth Emeth’s membership continued to grow, once again space became an issue. A plan was made which supported Genesis, to expand the facility for both congregations. In November 1994, Temple Beth Emeth and St. Clare’s dedicated a new building which included a new sanctuary, religious school classroom wing, new social hall and kitchen, offices, and a small Jewish chapel.
“While there are many examples of synagogues renting space to churches or churches to synagogues, there are very few, if any, examples of co-ownership like we have co-ownership of this facility,” the rabbi says. Josh Whinston, Chief Rabbi. by Beth Emeth. “Besides our offices and our small chapels, all the other spaces are shared.
“I think the Genesis partnership is a unique aspect of who we are and an incredible investment that’s been made here.”
Beth Emeth has an active social action committee that runs typical direct service programs like volunteering at the local shelter and a food pantry on her campus that they co-run with the church. The pantry does not require proof of need and sees dozens of people coming once a week to get food.
“I would say that we are a place of welcome and belonging both for our members who have been with us for a long time and for those who come through the door for the very first time,” says Whinston.
Beth Emeth’s senior clergy include Rabbi Whinston, who arrived in 2016, Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut and Rabbi Daniel Alter, Director of Education.
Beth Emeth is made up of approximately 550 member units, some of which are singles in a household and some of which are families.
“A few thousand people,” says Whinston, including professors and graduate students at the University of Michigan. “For me, as a rabbi, working in a college town, it’s a fun part of the job I do and the people I work with.”
Whinston says he’s more interested in people finding new ways to connect with Judaism.
“I think Judaism should be a tradition that puts us at ease and makes us feel safe, and it should also move us forward, both ritually in our observance but also around social issues,” he says. he. “For me, spirituality and social justice are two sides of the same coin. They feed off each other; they certainly do for me personally, and I hope that I will instill this idea throughout the congregation.