By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — There just wasn’t enough space.
Congregation Beth El Binah — the Reform Jewish synagogue with a primary outreach to the LGBT community — had expanding outreach and education programs that had to be accommodated. Beth El Binah has about 80 members or 65 families.
Although Beth El Binah had been housed for 23 years at Resource Center, 2701 Reagan St., it appeared that moving elsewhere might be the solution.
The roughly 700-member Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road, seemed like an interesting destination. The two entities certainly shared the same philosophy. (NUMC’s slogan is, “We Believe in the Separation of Church and Hate.”)
There were some pluses that were immediately evident in such an arrangement, explained Beth El Binah Rabbi Steve Fisch:
For starters, Northaven is more centrally located than the Resource Center in Oak Lawn.
Also, Beth El Binah members knew this wouldn’t be the first time NUMC had hosted a Jewish congregation.
The church was also home to members of the newly formed Reform synagogue Temple Shalom between 1967 and 1972 as temple members built their own home.
And likewise, Temple Shalom members returned the favor and housed Northaven congregants while the church underwent renovations in the 1980s.
“We took over their place on Sundays for about a year,” said Rev. Eric Folkerth, head minister at NUMC.
By all indications the proposed partnership — a synagogue moving into space shared by a church — appeared to have great potential for synergy.
Beth El Binah was founded as a synagogue with an outreach to the LGBT community — becoming a congregation in 1989 and joining with the Union of Reform Judaism in 1992. Its very diverse membership is said to reflect the evolution of the Dallas community.
Rabbi Fisch and Rev. Folkerth both share an interest in social justice and LGBT advocacy. Both are beneficiaries of the “Black Tie Dinner” fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign and local LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations.
“Northaven’s congregation feels everyone is equal in God’s eyes, including the LGBT community,” Rabbi Fisch said.
It only took a few months of discussion and negotiation with NUMC for Congregation Beth El Binah to secure a new home with them. They moved to Northaven United Methodist Church last August and began their first official service in September.
However, before that happened, Beth El Binah conducted two special meetings in July 2015.
One of them was for Beth El Binah’s board of directors, who used that time to considered the idea very carefully.
The second was a full congregational meeting held to discuss the issue.
“This wasn’t a decision made by the board alone,” Rabbi Fisch said. “I would say 60 to 70 percent of our members showed up at that meeting and the decision was unanimous.”
After an agreement was reached with NUMC in July 2015, Beth El Binah officially moved in during the month of August 2015.
Beth El Binah members now occupy a couple of upstairs rooms at Northaven United Methodist Church, and are using a couple of closets in that area for certain needs — such as storing and locking up their Torah, Rev. Folkerth said.
On High Holy Days, Rev. Folkerth said, Beth El Binah members are welcome to use the sanctuary to accommodate the larger crowds.
“I think the thing they really like is having this option on High Holy Days — having the ability to move into a larger space they don’t have to use all the time,” the reverend said.
Once Beth El Binah members moved to NUMC, the welcoming atmosphere was undeniable, Rabbi Fisch said.
“We all feel very much at home,” the rabbi said. “We have a mezuzah outside the door of the room we use for our services.”
Rabbi Fisch said his congregation has even increased somewhat since the move.
“It has definitely brought more people,” the rabbi said. “ …We are still on very good terms with the people at the Resource Center. There has been no lack of love or cooperation — just physical separation. We share the same values and are on the same page.”
Meanwhile, both the rabbi and the reverend said they are considering holding joint classes — possibly even worshiping together at some point.
“Absolutely,” Rabbi Fisch said. “I don’t see anything that will keep us from holding joint classes and services there.”
Although the two will never merge and will remain separate communities, they will most definitely team up, Rev. Folkerth agreed.
“We’ll be doing some stuff together,” the reverend said.
In March of this year, NUMC held a “service of welcoming” for Beth El Binah members.
“It really was a joint service,” Rabbi Fisch said. “It respected both traditions. … Both (members of NUMC and Beth El Binah) worship the same God. Our practices are different but there is one God — the God who created us all.”
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My husband Mitch and I were friendly with Rabbi Steve Fisch and his wife in the 1970s when we lived in Cincinnati. We even attended his ordination ceremony at HUC. I am now the executive director of the Commission for Jewish Education in West Palm Beach, FL, and I would like to reconnect with the Fisch family, and would appreciate if you would let him know. Please send him my email and ask if he will contact me. Thanks!