Sha’arei Shalom was started in the summer of 1995 when Martin Shapiro, a retired engineer and resident of Ashland, placed announcements in local newspapers to publicize an organizational meeting to be held at the Ashland Federated Church in June. Over 30 people attended the first organizational meeting.
“I stood at the door as people came in,” said Shapiro, “and was overwhelmed when I went inside and found more than 30 people who were eager to form Ashland’s first Jewish congregation.”
Although the High Holidays were approaching and there was a great desire to see Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur services in Ashland, many felt that the first project should be on a smaller scale. Taking the advice of Richard and Connie Shulman, who had started Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin five years earlier, the group decided to start by holding Friday evening services once a month. A small group of five, which later became the Ritual Committee, took on the task of creating and leading the first Shabbat service on August 4th, 1995.
While the Ritual Committee was setting down the spiritual and religious foundation for the congregation, another group got busy with the business end of things. The board of the congregation came together in the fall of 1995, set up a dues structure to ensure the congregation’s financial survival, and started on the road to incorporation.
At a special meeting on January 8, 1998, the congregation adopted the Hebrew name Sha’arei Shalom.
The word Sha’arei means “Gates.” In Biblical days, the gates of a city served as a civic center where, as Nahum Sarna writes in his commentary to Genesis, “the affairs of the community would be conducted in full view of, and with full participation of, the citizens.” Like the gates in the cities of our ancestors, our congregation serves as the center of our Jewish community.
The word Shalom is most often translated as “Peace,” but it also is used a greeting when welcoming people. Shalom also has connotations of wholeness, completeness, and well-being. Shalom expresses our aspirations for our community: to be peaceful, welcoming, and whole.
Our First Shabbat Service, August 4th, 1995
Outside, the temperature had hovered in the mid-90s all day. A short shower in the late afternoon brought small relief. Inside, four fans roared continuously since four o’clock, trying to coax the heat trapped in the rafters out the windows.
But by 7:30, more than 50 men, women, and children braved the August heat wave to inaugurate the congregation’s Friday night Shabbat series on August 4th, 1995.
Jo-Ann Schwartzman and Judy Seltzer transformed the Fellowship Hall into a festive space. A table at the front of the room provided a place for each family to light their own Shabbat candles, some for the first time in their lives.
Judy Shapiro used a five-branched candelabra that’s been in her family for three generations to open the evening service. Martin Shapiro, the founder of our congregation, gave a short but emotion-filled speech. “This is a historic event,” he said. “Until now, there has not been a Jewish congregation in Ashland.”
Rick Gottlieb led all the chanted prayers. Before he became a lawyer, Rick studied voice at the Brooklyn Conservatory and SUNY Binghamton. After the service Rick led the Kiddush.
Philip Borenstein gave a short d’var Torah where he noted the irony that our first service, which marks the establishment of our congregation, coincided with Tisha b’Av, the day of mourning that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples.
After the service and Kiddush, everyone enjoyed snacks and cookies for the Oneg Shabbat. (Though no one enjoyed the Oneg more than the children!) Thanks to Audrey Bennet, Julie Halpern, Alison Machado, Donna Bresnick, Deborah Bresnick, Nancy Ebert, Carol McGarry, Jo-Ann Schwartzman, and Judy Seltzer for providing the food for the Oneg.