By DAVID BORAKS
Lake Norman’s two Jewish congregations – one Reform and one Conservative – emerged out of one group six years ago. Now they’re getting back together to form a single organization that leaders say will strengthen the Jewish community in the area.
The boards of the Reform Lake Norman Jewish Congregation and Conservative Beth Shalom of Lake Norman announced Monday they will become one this summer in a merger that creates a single congregation of about 175 families. They plan to announce a new name in the coming weeks, and say they’re searching for a permanent home for the area’s first synagogue.
Rabbi Michael Shields will be the organization’s spiritual leader. As rabbi to the Lake Norman Jewish Congregation, he already has become well known in the Lake Norman area as a visible and active community leader. He also is the Jewish chaplain at Davidson College.
Co-presidents of the combined congregation will be Slade Goldstein of Davidson, from Lake Norman Jewish Congregation, and Len Sadek of Mooresville, from Beth Shalom.
For now, the two groups will continue meeting separately – Beth Shalom at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and Lake Norman Jewish Congregation at Fairview United Methodist Church in Mount Mourne. Rabbi Shields said he hopes the merger can be completed in time for an official launch by the Jewish High Holidays in the fall.
The groups will merge their governing boards, launch a combined religious school and Bnai Mitzvah program, and affiliate with the Union for Reformed Judaism.
“The coming together of the Jewish community into a single congregation will only add to the vibrancy of Jewish life and religious life in the town of Davidson and the surrounding area,” Rabbi Shields said Monday.
He said the town of Davidson, Davidson College and other local religious groups have “welcomed” the Jewish community in recent years and we look forward to deepening that relationship in the years to come.”
Mr. Goldstein, who was among the founders of the the Lake Norman Jewish Congregation and its predecessor, said the two groups’ leaders had discussed a merger for about five months. “This has been a long time in coming,” he said.
While the area’s Jewish community had split in 2006 into Reform and Conservative groups, he said as the two congregations evolved, they’ve come to see their shared goals. “We kind of grew into very similar communities, and as we recognized our similarities, we started to ask ourselves those questions, about how could this be better if we were all together?” he said.
Lake Norman Jewish congregation currently has about 125 families, according to Mr. Goldstein. Beth Shalom has about 47 families, according to Mr. Sadek. While there could be some attrition because of the decision to adopt a Reform approach, Mr. Sadek said the decision is an important one. “This builds a stronger community here, definitely, and there are definitely a lot more positives than negatives in doing that,” he said.
Asked to describe the difference between the two schools, Mr. Sadek said Reform Judaism takes a slightly more modern approach, and may be more acceptable to many interfaith families.
To Mr. Goldstein, the move is a sign of the growing significance of the Lake Norman Jewish community – regardless of the approach. Before the local community came together a decade ago, Jews had no choice but to drive to Charlotte for worship, religious school and other activities.
The merger and growth now puts the Lake Norman Jewish community on the map, he said. A decade ago, “Realtors would tell you no Jews live north of (I-)277.” Then, people began move to the lake and wanted a Jewish experience here.
“Now, it’s an opportunity for people who are moving to this part of the state, to say, hey, I can live at the lake and not have to be an hour from the closest synagogue,” he said.
“I think the biggest story, to be honest with you, is the Jewish Congregation in the lake area is really a legitimate choice for people who are moving to the Charlotte area,” Mr. Goldstein said.