Originally published by The American Israelite in September 2016
It is a special year for Wise Temple. The Reform congregation has not one, but two big milestones to recognize: 175
years as a congregation and 150 years since the opening of Plum Street Temple.
“It’s invigorating to see how these anniversaries have inspired our congregants,” says Project Director Jennifer Zelkind. “Every week someone new comes up with another meaningful way to celebrate our history as a congregation, a city, and a people.”
The season of celebrations, called Wise Journey, will begin with a joyous Opening Weekend on September 16-18,
2016, at Wise Center in Amberley. Scribe Neil Yerman will come in from New York as a Scholar in Residence on
Friday night, and will speak to the meaning behind scribing a Torah. Yerman will return to Cincinnati every few
weeks throughout the year leading members in writing a Hebrew letter in one of two Torah scrolls commissioned to
commemorate the 175th Anniversary of the congregation and 150th Anniversary of Wise Temple. The weekend will
continue on Saturday morning with a Torah study led by Sofer Yerman. Wise Temple congregants of every age will
join in a festive celebration like no other on Sunday morning when the first letters of each scroll will be scribed
together as a community.
The celebration will continue all year with activities appealing to many different interests, including: Every Wise
Temple member will have the opportunity to study with Scribe Yerman and put his or her hand to a Torah scroll that
will be used in lifecycle events for years to come. Honored historian Dr. Gary Zola will bring back his enlightening
tour of Jewish Cincinnati, touching on interesting and little known facts about significant and surprising locations of
Jewish interest throughout the city. Wise Temple will host a 19th Century service recreating the dress and music of
the time when charismatic leader Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise introduced mixed gender seating and music to the service
right here in Cincinnati. There will be celebrity organ concerts on Plum Street Temple’s Rockwern organ in collaboration with University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). The organ is considered to be a significant monument of American musical history. Rabbis and docents will lead Plum Street Temple tours that will bring to life the significance of the history and architecture of our city’s National Historic Landmark. A Plum Street
Temple photo book will be created, highlighting professional and amateur photographs of this architectural jewel in
the Queen City’s crown. The season will culminate in a Festive Torah dedication and street fair.
Nearly a hundred members have already stepped forward with their time, treasure and talents to bring these projects
Shelley Heinen, a member for over a decade, provides a Young Family perspective.“I wanted to be able to use some
of my professional skills and interests to contribute to this spectacular, once in a lifetime opportunity.” Heinen, is a
marketing professional who stepped up to chair the team of volunteers working hard to spread the excitement about the many programs already planned.
“I’m excited,” says Heinen. “We have some amazing activities and programs planned for all ages. We take a lot of pride in our journey as a congregation and want to share that pride and sense of community…. We are giving people
the opportunity to engage as much or as little as they want, to explore Wise Temple in a different way and Plum
Street Temple in a different way.”
Meryl Gruber has also stepped forward. New to town, Meryl’s excitement about the communal aspect of the year’s
celebrations is infectious. “I want to encourage other congregants to have that experience–whatever it will be for
each person. It’s going to be different for everybody. These anniversaries are an opportunity for people to meet and
work with other congregants and get more involved with the Wise community.”
Gruber is working with a large group to create a meaningful Torah scribing experience that welcomes members of
all ages at any point in their personal journey at Wise.
“Our goal is to have 100 percent participation and provide an opportunity to come together as a community and
participate in amazing events throughout the year,” says Heinen. This will be a season full of opportunity, reflection, and excitement. President Jonathan Chaiken says, “The Wise Journey Anniversary Celebration is an opportunity for us to continue to engage our congregants on the benefits of all that Wise Temple has to offer in the way of worship, education, social action and community.”
These anniversaries are significant Cincinnati as a whole, because Isaac Meyer Wise transformed Cincinnati, over
time, into the center of American Reform Judaism and Plum Street Temple is one of only 12 national historic
landmarks in the city.
This Wise Journey is a time to honor the past, embrace the future, and celebrate today.