The Falmouth Jewish Congregation is a vibrant, egalitarian Reform congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and served by Rabbi Elias Lieberman and Pamela Rothstein, Director of Lifelong Learning. Its membership represents a diverse, inclusive, participatory community with diverse traditions, practices, and beliefs. All are welcomed with warmth and respect — Jews, interfaith families, and people of all ages and gender identities. While varied in background, the congregation is united in a dedication to providing a place that meets the needs of the Jewish community on the Upper Cape and beyond for worship, celebration, lifelong learning and social action. This year (2011) the congregation celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of its founding in Falmouth.
On April 12, 1981, a small group of Jewish families which had been holding religious services in their homes held an organizational meeting at a local bank. Thus was born the Falmouth Jewish Congregation. Through the generosity of various churches in the community, services were held on a regular basis. The congregation affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism) in 1982.
The unique spirit of interfaith cooperation continued when the East Congregational Religious Society gave the Jewish community, as an outright gift, the East End Meeting House (a simple and elegant post-and-beam structure built in 1797) with its accompanying parsonage, and a “Teaching and Preaching” endowment. The Meeting House was refurbished and transformed into a synagogue and was dedicated in October, 1983. The parsonage served as an office and school. Also that year, the congregation called its first full-time rabbi to serve its religious and spiritual needs.
The Falmouth Jewish Congregation has enjoyed steady growth over the years. As a result, larger facilities were necessary. In 1989 work began on the congregation’s Community Center. This building, which houses the temple’s offices, religious school, social hall, library and chapel, is used for a wide array of social, religious, and cultural programs. Both Goode Chapel and the Meeting House are used for worship services at different times throughout the year.
In 1995, the Falmouth Jewish Cemetery was dedicated on a beautiful site on the congregation’s property. It is the first and only free-standing Jewish cemetery on Cape Cod and is open to all Jews and their immediate families.
The congregation maintains a full complement of educational programs as well as a range of social and cultural activities for the benefit of its members and the greater Cape community. The congregation currently numbers over 300 households, including Families, Individuals and Associates (members who have a primary affiliation with another synagogue.) Interfaith and non-traditional families are warmly welcomed into the congregation.
Rabbi Robert Goldstein served the congregation from 1983-1990. Rabbi Elias Lieberman has served the congregation since 1990. Pamela Rothstein, Director of Lifelong Learning, has served the congregation since 1999.
The East End Meeting House was built in 1797, a post-and-beam building typical of meeting houses of its period. In 1840 a member of the Congregationalist community which built and owned the Meeting House offered to endow a “Preaching and Teaching Fund” with $10,000 if the congregation agreed to two conditions: 1) that the entire structure be rotated ninety-degrees so that its entrance door would face the main (Sandwich) road and 2) that a bell tower and bell be installed.
These conditions were agreed to and the changes implemented. When, in 1983, the East End Meeting House, as well as a parsonage house and the “Preaching and Teaching Fund” were given to the fledgling Falmouth Jewish Congregation, the bell was removed from the tower. Because the original Meeting House had not been designed to carry the weight of a bell tower and bell, the roof of the structure had developed a potentially dangerous sag. The bell now sits beside the Meeting House, mounted in a special garden.
When the Falmouth Jewish Congregation received the Meeting House in 1983, approximately $75,000 worth of renovations were undertaken to prepare it for use as a synagogue. A wide bimah (pulpit) was created, an aron kodesh (ark) to house the Torah scrolls was fashioned by a member of the congregation, the building was made accessible for people with disabilities, the depth of the pew seating was increased, interior decorations were refurbished and radiant heat panels were installed above the ceiling. Because the Meeting House lacks a sub-basement, this was–at the time–the only effective way to provide heat for the building. Since then the Meeting House has been equipped with an efficient forced air heating and air-conditioning system and can be used in all seasons of the year.
Like any historic structure, the East End Meeting House requires constant care and attention. In the wake of Hurricane Bob, in August, 1991, the original wooden steeple was nearly blown off. It had to be removed for safety’s sake. At that time, a significant amount of work was undertaken including the strengthening of the bell tower supports, replacement of the wooden-shingle roof, and replacement of some rotted sills. A new steeple, fabricated from aluminum, was installed in 1995. In June of 1996, new entrance doors were installed.
The building’s bicentennial was celebrated in the spring of 1997 with a service of celebration and rededication and the commissioning of a poem from Falmouth poet, Eric Edwards, in recognition of the fact that a poem had been commissioned for the building’s centennial in 1897.
The Meeting House is used regularly for worship by the congregation and is also frequently the venue for chamber music performances. Acoustically the Meeting House is a wonderful and intimate space, seating approximately 350 people, in which to enjoy performances.
Behind the Meeting House sits a cemetery, half of which is a town cemetery, the other half of which belongs to the Congregationalist community which built the Meeting House. While burials still take place there on occasion, the Falmouth Jewish Congregation has taken on the sacred obligation of maintaining this burial ground in perpetuity.
The East End Meeting House of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation is an important, and unique, example of interfaith good will. Its simple beauty continues to inspire those who gather within its walls.