On Monday morning, members of Temple Beth-El gathered at Oak City Cemetery for their last official act as a congregation. At this last meeting, the members buried books, according to Jewish tradition, which states that no religious book containing the name of God should be put in the trash or set on fire, but rather buried.
Books are buried, not to forget, but to sanctify.
Although placed in a final resting place, the books were once used by the Temple Beth-El congregation and Sunday School children.
“If the pages could speak, what stories could they tell of the people who once held them, the rooms they were in, the holidays and celebrations they saw taking place within the walls of Temple Beth-El “, said Dr. Alex. Greenberg at the ceremony.
Temple Beth-El was built in 1916 and on December 19, 1916, it was dedicated at the corner of Evans and Broad streets.
Since then, many events have taken place at Temple Beth-El, such as baby baptisms, funerals, confirmations, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, as well as Purim carnivals, Passover seders, Hanukkah and Sukkot festivities.
Temple Beth-El even has its own half-acre cemetery, where the books are buried.
There, Melvin “Tuffy” Nussbaum III keeps the cemetery records and oversees its upkeep.
Although Temple Beth-El has not been active in recent years, due to damage from Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Ida, it has a rich history of members, who served locally as merchants, bankers, teachers, academics, civic leaders, industrialists, mayor and city council members, doctors and pharmacists.
Temple Beth-El has also shared some of the best rabbis in the tri-state area, beginning with E.A. Landau of Albany from 19090 to 1945 and ending with Elijah “Zeke” Palnick of Albany in 1999. Since then, Temple Beth-El -El had no rabbi, but Paul and Beverly Smith of Albany and Roslyn Palmer of Bainbridge conducted monthly services.
Palmer hopes to continue meeting in members’ homes in the future, but knows that’s the end of a formal congregation because the Temple sale ends on Wednesday.
“As a formal congregation, we will be no more,” she said at Monday’s ceremony. “But, as a congregation of friends, our love and support for one another can be as strong as the bindings of these books. Let us walk from this place in remembrance of what has been, in celebration of what we , as a congregation, have provided Bainbridge.
Palmer said the future of Temple Beth-El is in the hands of the new owner, who intends to turn it into an Airbnb. However, the new owner has requested many paintings and old works hanging in the temple, promising to maintain the integrity of the temple, while renovating it to become an Airbnb.