July 5, 2001
Tammuz 14, 5761



Meeting in the middle at the Cedars

By JENNIFER M. PAQUETTE
Special to The CJN

WATERLOO - Halfway through my visit to Temple Shalom, I notice all four of my guides are wearing sandals.
It's a warm spring day, but all of them?


Feature
In a way, though, sandals are perfect. Their congregation wandered for over 35 years, coming home only five years ago, with Westminster United Church, to the world's first shared Jewish-Christian worship space: the Cedars Worship Centre.
A liberal outpost in a two-shul town, Temple Shalom's congregants longed for their own home, but with under 70 families, couldn't afford to build. When one congregant suggested building with Westminster, they leapt in.
At the Cedars, double doors from a shared lobby lead into an hourglass-shaped auditorium - an inequal hourglass; Temple Shalom is about half Westminster's size.
"The relationship's not a symmetrical one," says Bob Chodos, a former president. "In terms of the design of the sanctuary, it wasn't an easy thing to work out."
The spaces stand back-to-back, separated by a folding wall. Movable wooden benches face the "front" of each space. A woodwind ensemble rehearses throughout my visit, the music soaring among vaulted pale-wood ceilings and pink cinderblock. I linger, wandering over to the shared bookshelf to see what Cedars people are reading.
The books mirror what Westminster's pamphlet calls "two unabashedly different groups." A children's book by Harold Kushner lies with The Friendly Beasts, featuring the refrain "Jesus, our brother, kind and good." A bile-green 1970 volume dryly offering Hebrew Through Values is pushed aside by Really Bad Girls of the Bible.
A suitable statement of the liberal bent of both congregations.
Without those beliefs, Temple Shalom congregants say, the two groups couldn't have collaborated.
"We're more open to that kind of thing," says Jennifer Shalinsky.
Chodos agrees. "We're out in the world with non-Jews, living, working with them."
Roz Adelberg, a founding member, adds, "Our best friends are non-Jews. We're comfortable with them."
Their neighbours are just as comfortable. The Reverend Gary Boratto's first reaction to the Cedars project was, "Wow, cool!" An Alef-Bet chart hangs on his office wall beneath a portrait of Jesus as he speaks earnestly of erasing old enmities.
Boratto's denomination, the United Church, already known for its acceptance of Judaism, issued a statement in 1997 called "Bearing Faithful Witness," which emphasizes that Jesus isn't the Jewish messiah. It condemns deceptive conversion, and urges compromises like saying "Hebrew scriptures" instead of "Old Testament."
At the Cedars, compromise is no abstract concept. Temple Shalom recently opened a tiny Judaica shop; at first, the wooden
Main sign outside the Cedars.

display case seems typical, offering intricate havdalah candles and Rosh Hashanah cards. But another look reveals that the right side of the case holds olive wood crosses from Jerusalem. Many Jews would squirm to see such objects together.
Of course, compromises cut both ways. There's no permanent cross in the sanctuary; a child carries one in during services. Meeting in a gymnasium for years, Boratto's idea of sacred space changed.
"We came into a place and made it holy by our presence."
The cross's absence eases Jewish concerns about meeting in a church, and also eliminates potential conflict for Christians.
"Removing the cross Œdesacralizes' the building," says Boratto, "so that, for us, it doesn't matter what happens in it."
Even by Jewish standards, Temple Shalom is austere, from its hard wooden pews to the concrete floor. But a vast window overlooks a garden Shalinsky tends herself, and with the parochet revealed, majestic ark doors in steel and handmade paper by Toronto artist Temma Gentles, the effect is inspiring. With sunlight streaming in, the vast ceilings, and the wind ensemble picking its way through Mozart, it's easy to fall in love with this little shul.
Temple Shalom has had its share of problems, like their first and only contract rabbi, who lasted less than a year. Yet even that ended well, inspiring the congregants to hire student rabbis instead.
"We've been so happy with that decision," says Adelberg.
"They've all been wonderful," Shalinsky says.
And all different, her husband Bill says. Without the big-city variety of synagogues and adult education programs, the student rabbis have broadened the congregants' Jewish experience.
For a while, congregants, too, were coming and going, leaving Waterloo for other communities. But now, university faculty are seeking tenure and building families. Adelberg recalls driving her son to Toronto for bar mitzvah lessons - "he's 45, so you figure it out!" She marvels that this June, Temple Shalom celebrated four bnei mitzvot - one each Shabbat.
Adelberg stands with Boratto in the lobby, as he points out two Jerusalem stones, "one brought back by a member of each congregation."
"Almost everybody here is from somewhere else," Chodos says, but like those stones, this place has brought them together. Sandals or not, Temple Shalom's nomadic days are over - through hard work and compromise, they've come home to the Cedars.

 
 

 

 

 

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