Last year – 2021 – marked the 45th anniversary of the launching of Congregation Beth Tikvah.
Back in the early 1970s, there were quite a few young families in the Marlton, Mt. Laurel, and Moorestown areas whose children were ready to begin Hebrew School. Since there was no local synagogue, they attended the Beth Israel Camden satellite school on Church Road in Mt. Laurel. During this time, the families invited their Jewish friends to various parlor meetings in one another’s homes and discovered that there was enough need and enthusiasm for forming their own congregation.
A small ranch house on Evesboro-Medford Road in Marlton was purchased in 1976, and about a dozen families went to work refurbishing the house. The kitchen became the office, the bedrooms and living room became the classrooms, and the basement became the sanctuary. While the renovations were ongoing, Norman Levithan of blessed memory became the first CBT president; Rabbi Murray Goldman of Philadelphia donated his time and his ark and became our rabbi for two years, leading services in the Moorestown Friends School, the Marlton Village Clubhouse, and the Mt. Laurel Travelodge. Hebrew school was held in members’ homes.
Our “small shul,” as Rabbi Nathan refers to us, was dedicated in 1977 and became our “House of Hope,” Congregation Beth Tikvah. Since then, our rabbis or rabbinic interns have been from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Intern Richard Hirsch was hired in 1978 and, under his guidance, we became the first egalitarian congregation in South Jersey. Beginning in 1981, Rabbi Gary Gans, who had been a former assistant rabbi in Philadelphia, helped us to become a full-grown congregation both spiritually and educationally for the next 35 years, and he remains with us as Rabbi Emeritus; Intern Ellie Knepler came in 2010 and stayed with us for one year. A second intern, Nathan Weiner, joined us in 2011 and, in 2016 when celebrating our 40th year, became our full-time Rabbi Nathan.
If I were asked to describe Congregation Beth Tikvah, I would say…
CBT is an essentially volunteer-led congregation. From Day One, volunteers turned a ranch house into a synagogue building; they accept positions as committee chairs; they plan wonderful events to honor our clergy or individual members; they prepare food for special events; they take care of our house and grounds; ten of them have become congregation presidents; they accept Board of Trustee positions; they have worked to sustain our weekly BINGO fundraiser; they lead Sisterhood and Men’s Club…I see innumerable occasions when our volunteers have stepped up to do their “thing.”
Our lay leaders are our members. They lead services when Rabbis Nathan or Gans is unavailable; they conduct Shiva services as needed; they are gabbis, Torah readers, lifters and tiers, ushers and minyanaires; they create an annual Chick Shabbat; they transport books and Torahs to other venues when necessary.
We are a congregation of charitable donors. We have had two very successful capital fund drives which enabled us to build the school and library wing in 1982 and the sanctuary/social hall and kitchen wing in 1989. We have raised funds to replace the roof, the exterior doors and the HVAC. We were able to reduce our mortgage, thanks to our donors. We have fundraised for our Half-Shekel campaign, for the Chai Fund to support those who are unable to pay full dues. In 2010, 18 families invested in the Marlton Investment Club which helped pay for an executive director and a rabbinic intern, and many members have become part of the Life & Legacy Program and donate to our Kol Nidre Appeal. Somehow, our generous members step up to the challenge and sustain our existence, and we are so grateful to all of them.
We are a loving and caring collection of people. We have always welcomed children to our services and, as they have grown, they look forward to being chosen to bring grape juice to the bimah and to our members. We warmly meet and greet our fellow members as well as new attendees, and we have earned a reputation for our hugs and friendliness. We are very supportive in times of crisis or loss, and we take pride in the accomplishments of our students and families. We attract and welcome members from other congregations and successfully blend them into ours. We think of ourselves as part of a second family in our second home.
CBT’s membership is eager to learn. We offer an adult education book club and speaker series, adult B’nai Mitzvot classes and an adult Confirmation class. During the past 45 years, there have been numerous rabbi-led classes, which were well attended. There were congregation and clergy meetings around topics such as “egalitarian”; transitioning our Hebrew school from three days a week to two days to finally to one-day classes; the question of photography at B’nai Mitzvot; the Cohen-Levi debate; the discussion of multi-access technology for Shabbat and High Holiday Services; and the creation of TLC (Tikvah Learning Community) for our children. All of these experiences have been educational opportunities for our members.
We love to party! We have joyously celebrated CBT’s Bat Mitzvah in 1989, Rabbi Gans’ anniversaries with our congregation, several Scott Rand Memorial Dinners honoring volunteers in our synagogue and in the community, and Cantor Lebovic’s 18th anniversary in 2004. We had a spectacular 20th anniversary dinner/dance and created a beautiful anniversary book to commemorate the occasion. We enjoyed the aufruf celebration for Rabbi Nathan and Sam Warren the day before their marriage in May, 2019.
Written by Past President Nancy Horowitz