Temple Sinai welcomes a new rabbi – at a nearby church
Two days before Temple Sinai was to hold a congregation-wide celebration to welcome its new rabbi, the shrine’s air conditioning went out.
“There was no way to accommodate the rabbi [David] Lipper’s first serve; there was just no way,” Diane Adler, president of Temple Sinai, told JHV. “At that time, we had 120 people responding.”
Adler emailed a friend, Phil Berrie, of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, who contacted the rector and vestry (church leadership). Within half an hour, Adler learned that the congregation would be welcome to hold his big event at the church. And, moreover, they could use the church sanctuary as long as necessary.
And, this need can be a moment.
Supply chain issues put repairs at eight weeks. Members of Temple Sinai hope they will be home in time for the high holy days.
Holding services at Immanuel Episcopal is a mitzvah for Temple Sinai.
Five years ago, just a mile from Temple Sinai, Hurricane Harvey robbed Emmanuel Episcopal. The church received 4 feet of floodwater, creating so much damage that it was unable to return to its original building.
The leaders of Temple Sinai offered Emmanuel their sanctuary, sharing the temple’s sacred space for nearly two and a half years.
Over time, members of Emmanuel joined the Temple Sinai Holy Days Choir and members of Temple Sinai participated in the Blessing of the Church Animals. Together, they did acts of kindness, forging friendships no one could have foreseen.
Now, when Temple Sinai was in need, Rector Vance Ousley was quick to the rescue.
“Although we have been housed by the Temple Sinai congregation for just over two years after being flooded by Harvey, we do not consider this a ‘return of favor,'” Rector Ousley told JHV.
“We learned a lot from Temple Sinai about generously sharing holy land, and what makes it truly holy is sharing. We also know that we share a common mission with Temple Sinai to love Gd. with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“The same thing that worked there [at Temple Sinai], works here,” Berrie told JHV. “The schedules line up and we know everyone. It’s a match made in heaven.
Friday, July 8 was the long-awaited first service for Rabbi Lipper, who took the move to Emmanuel Episcopal in stride.
“As a rabbi, the connection between Temple Sinai and the Emmanuel Episcopal Church is a true blessing. Our communities bonded in the challenge and lifted each other up,” Rabbi Lipper told JHV.
As Rabbi Lipper toured Houston-area Jewish institutions to get a sense of the lay of the land, Adler, Temple Sinai administrator Cindy Crump, members of the Rabbi’s transition team, Berrie and d others worked quickly to make such a move possible.
Prayer books, yarmulkes, badges, markers and flyers had to be moved. Food trucks providing dinner had to be notified. The flowers had to be delivered. And finally, a Torah was to be placed inside the sanctuary and contained in a portable ark.
Temple Sinai has a kind of diaspora arch, a very special structure was made by B’nai Mitzvah students after Harvey. Therefore, on Sunday mornings, while the church was holding services in the sanctuary, students could take the Torah with them to the library or elsewhere. Now the Ark is a reminder of what was and what can be.
When temple members heard about the church’s offer to host them, they were thrilled to see old friends again.
“We are blessed to have this long-lasting, ongoing friendship and to be able to be together again, under different circumstances,” Joan Adler told JHV. “What a blessing!”
Ruth Herman of Temple Sinai lives in Eagle’s Trace, a seniors’ community; the same goes for Carl Shannon, a member of Emmanuel Episcopal.
“[Shannon] always said thank you when they had their services in our synagogue,” Herman told JHV. “So I went to him the other day and I said, ‘Thank you’ and he said, ‘Why? I told him that Emmanuel was welcoming us. And he was so happy to hear it.
Longtime Temple Sinai member Diane Statham was with the temple throughout Harvey.
“Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Houston has been extremely generous in allowing us to use their facilities as we did for them when their building flooded under Harvey,” Statham told JHV.
“And it comes at a wonderful time for us, when we really need it – when we’re transitioning to a new rabbi.”
Together, the church and the synagogue organized the celebration.
During their temporary digs, Rabbi Lipper was greeted by nearly 165 people from both congregations.
Two food trucks — one serving Texas barbecue and the other offering American fare, such as burgers, fries and chicken strips — were on hand.
Inside, there were light Mediterranean dishes. And after the services, there was an ice cream truck, along with an assortment of other tasty treats.
Once on the bimah, the rabbi opened by telling the congregation to smile, then, to everyone’s delight, he took a selfie.
Rabbi Lipper was joined by guest musical accompanist Barbara Loeser, a legendary singer and educator within Houston’s Jewish community. Rabbi Lipper and Loeser met decades ago when they were both beginning their careers.
“I am thrilled to have a home to share with others,” Rector Ousley said. “Although we are sad that [Temple Sinai’s] The air conditioning needs replacing, it is especially a blessing for us to share Gd’s love and our space with them, our beloved partners, especially in a time of transition as they and we welcome the Rabbi David Lipper in our community.”
Adler, who set everything in motion, is relieved.
“It was the easiest call I’ve ever had,” she says. “Emmanuel Episcopal is a family.”