Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, a Jewish Destination on Spiritual Journeys

Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, a Jewish Destination on Spiritual Journeys

Beth Hamedrosh members share a meal. (Courtesy of Rabbi Yonah Gross)

About 75 people come to the Beth Hamedrosh Congregation in Wynnewood for Sabbath morning services every Saturday. Then, during the week, between 10 and 20 congregations attend morning and evening minyans.

For a synagogue with as many as 80 families, this is a high percentage of loyal members.
After growing up in a conservative or Reformed Jewish community or even completely outside of a religious community, many are Orthodox or as some would say traditional. Their spiritual journeys took them to Orthodoxy, Wynnewood, and Beth Hamedrosh. And now the center of their weekly life.

“Members who have been part of the congregation for over a decade are certainly extremely selfless,” said Mark Solomon, who is in the 11th year of the congregation. “Participants embraced these practices.”

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Solomon attributed this foundation to the “love of Judaism”. It’s not just services. It is a learning environment that includes morning Talmud study sessions and evening Torah lessons. It is also the spirit of helping one another in periods of birth, death in the family, and other important life events. Beth Razin, a 32-year-old member, said the congregation stood out to “provide food or whatever families need.”

Solomon, who is ethnically Jewish but not religious, found Beth Hamedrosh after his parents died a little over a decade ago, 10 months apart. He started looking for morning minyans and set out to study at the Wynnewood synagogue, Delaware. He stopped once and then kept coming back.

“I saw people there care about dress and Jewish law,” he said. “It was something that was becoming more and more important to me.”

Razin discovered Beth Hamedrosh in 1990 while still at Overbrook Park. After growing up in the conservative movement, she became the shomer Shabbos with her husband and began looking for other observant families so their children could make friends. They moved to Overbrook Park and joined the synagogue two blocks away.

The longtime member has devoted himself to his spiritual home even after his children have grown and the house has moved down the street to Wynnewood. Today he has to walk 1.1 miles instead of two blocks. But that’s okay.

“It was important to have Shomer Shabbat families that our kids could play with,” Razin said. “We realized that this could only really happen in an Orthodox community.”

Beth Hamedrosh’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yonah Gross, arrived from an Orthodox synagogue in Phoenix in 2009. He said he’d never heard of Wynnewood before. He also had no idea that it was part of the Philadelphia suburbs.

But when the rabbi got here, he quickly realized that the synagogue was very convenient. He enjoys the challenge of answering common questions and likes meeting Jews where they are to help them figure out how to proceed on their journey. In the Wynnewood community, his job is to do both.

Congregation of Congregation Beth Hamedrosh at a community picnic (Courtesy of Rabbi Yonah Gross)

Razin said that when Gross first arrived, he recruited 30 volunteers to get people to their doorstep on Christmas Day and leave little bags with apples and honey inside—just to say happy holidays. Solomon said Gross convinced him to join the synagogue in 2011. He said it was clear that the rabbi was “interested in all Jews.”

“He is the one who reaches out to all the different Jews,” Solomon added.

According to Solomon, Beth Hamedrosh’s parking lot is closed on Shabbat. But if someone parks around the corner and walks in, Gross and the members greet them at the door.

“They’re Jewish when they walk through the door,” Solomon said.

Beth Hamedrosh’s congregation includes baby boomers, millennials, and millennials. According to Razin, 40 or 50 years ago, families moved and were replaced by younger households. These young families move to the Wynnewood neighborhoods, then walk to Beth Hamedrosh as Orthodox Jews do not drive on the Sabbath.

This cycle allowed the synagogue to keep its membership base stable. Razin and Gross don’t believe Gross has dropped or increased since it started 13 years ago.

“As the rabbi said, it’s a good place for a starter house,” Razin said of Wynnewood.

However, Solomon explained that the Main Line has moved from a Conservative Jewish district to a more Orthodox one over the past 30 years. He also said that more Orthodox people continue to move to the Philadelphia area and have a younger median age than other Jewish denominations.

“Ten years from now, there will be a lot more people in this building,” he concluded. ■

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