Temple Emanu-El of Willingboro was born in January 1959, when five families met to discuss formation of the first Jewish Reform Congregation in Burlington County. We received our Charter from the State of New Jersey on July 16, 1959.
In January, 1960, the Temple acquired its first permanent home – a converted house on Pinafore Lane in Willingboro. Services were lead by student Rabbis.
In April 1962, plans were drawn for a structure on John F. Kennedy Way in Willingboro. The building was formally dedicated in October 1964, the same weekend that the congregation installed its first permanent Rabbi, Richard A. Levine. As the congregation grew, so did our building.
With changing demographics, a Future Planning Committee was formed in 1986. Over the next few years the committee met, discussed possibilities of relocation and investigated several possible building sites.
In 1992, after meeting with Barry Bannett, a local architect, the plans for a new home took on a viable shape. In December 1993, the congregation approved the purchase of property in Mount Laurel.
In preparation for the move, the congregation voted to change the name of their Temple to Adath Emanu-El (Community of Emanu-El), so the emphasis would be on the people, not on the building.
The groundbreaking ceremony took place on June 23, 1996. A steering committee was formed to oversee the realization of this endeavor. This was a “building by committee” as hundreds of congregants contributed ideas and recommendations for consideration by the Steering Committee.
On August 24, 1997, with Rabbi Levine leading the way, the three Torah scrolls were carried in relay by over 200 congregants from our old home in Willingboro to our new home in Mount Laurel. Upon arrival, the mezzuzot were blessed and placed upon our doors and over 400 people gathered in our sanctuary as the scrolls were placed in the ark. The building was officially dedicated at our Friday night service on September 19, 1997.
In September, 2002, Rabbi Andrew Israel Bossov was installed as our Associate Rabbi. On June 30, 2005, Rabbi Richard A. Levine retired and Rabbi Bossov became our Senior Rabbi. Rabbi Levine, our Rabbi Emeritus, was an active part of our congregational family.
From January 7, 2011 to June 30, 2012 Rabbi Stacy K. Offner joined Adath as our interim Rabbi. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, officiated at this event.
On July 1, 2012, Rabbi Benjamin P. David joined Adath as our new Rabbi. Rabbi David’s leadership is a guiding light in this new chapter of our synagogue’s life.
Rabbi Richard A. Levine “z’l” passed away in February of 2014 and leaves behind a rich legacy of Torah and Jewish thought, as well as a large and loving family.
Adath Emanu-El is complete with tradition, spirit and feeling of Kehilah – a family growing, learning, worshipping and working together.
As you walk down the hallways of our synagogue, there are several important items that we brought from our home in Willingboro. Located between the Rabbis’ offices are the fixtures from the bima of the permanent sanctuary dedicated in 1975. These were designed and created by Stanley Miller as one of his initial Judaic art productions. This includes the ark doors, which are adorned with the letters of the Ten Commandments, as well as the phrase “Adonai lee v’lo ira” (God is with us; we shall not fear). Also in that alcove, the dedication and gift plaques from our Willingboro home are displayed, along with the Congregation’s original charter, dated July 16, 1959.
As you enter the lobby of our sanctuary, the past presidents plaques of the Congregation, Sisterhood and Men’s Club are displayed. Also in the lobby are the illuminated replicas of the Holocaust Memorial Mosaics, which were designed by Lois G. Levine and created with the assistance of many of our Congregational families. Off the lobby, in the Tapestry Room, you will find the Tapestry Rug, which was also designed by Lois G. Levine and created by many members of our Congregational family.
Our synagogue in Mount Laurel was designed with many details and meaning, with an openness that is to be welcoming to all. As you stand in the sanctuary lobby and look upwards towards the skylight, you will notice that the central point of the skylight has twelve radiating spokes. This is symbolic of the diaspora (the 12 tribes being spread throughout the lands of the earth). Here at Adath Emanu-El, we offer a more modern interpretation of this image – the central hub is Adath Emanu-El, where we welcome into our family anyone who wishes to affiliate from wherever they may come.
The sanctuary was designed to make everyone feel at home and comfortable. Its design, by architect Barry Bannett, was deliberately kept very simple so that anyone participating in a religious observance would be focused on the reason they were there, without distractions. Bonnie Srolovitz and Michael Berkowicz of Presentations Galleries designed the interior of the sanctuary. Bonnie grew up in our congregation and was familiar with the feeling that we were trying to portray in the sanctuary of a family home. The pews illustrate our belief that we are part of one family because they were made on Kibbutz Lavi in Israel. The central focus of the bima is the ark. The doors represent a burning bush and inscribed in the flames is Emanu-El (G-d is with us). The ark is lit from the inside so that the light of Torah will shine forth through the doors to bring its message to the congregants seated before it. Above the ark is the ner tamid, which is symbolized in Hebrew by a double yud, representing “God.” Bracketing the ark are wooden panels representing an open book – for we have always been known as the People of the Book. Extending from the open book are walls of imported Jerusalem stone. The walls are shaped as wings reaching out to embrace the congregation. As you look up above the bima, you will see the six-pointed star, the Shield of David, which we pray will protect us always as we go forward to a bright and limitless future.