Simeon Wohlberg, president of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, moved to Stamford 25 years ago. “It’s an ideal place to live,” Wohlberg shared with The Jewish Link. “We love this community, the people, the religious atmosphere, the tremendous growth in our shul’s membership.” He believes the decision to raise his family there was one of his best decisions.
Wohlberg attributes the community’s growth to its proximity to both New York City and Yale; lower property taxes; the popularity of the Chabad Nursery School; the expansion of the Bi-Cultural Day School into the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy (BCHA), providing education for students in pre-K through grade 12; and the “wonderful, friendly people” who have chosen to live in the area.
Wohlberg explained that the shul has embarked on a multi-million dollar capital fund to enlarge the physical space. With a very generous lead gift from member Barry Sternlicht, donated in honor of his family, the campaign received tremendous momentum to move forward toward its goal of raising $8,000,000. Sternlicht remembers his bar mitzvah and his wedding, both of which were held at the shul, and is proud to continue to be a member. He wants to see Agudath Sholom restored to its legendary magnificence. Thanks to the benevolence of both older and newer members of the shul, the campaign has raised close to $6,000,000, with construction set to begin shortly. The official groundbreaking is scheduled for this spring.
Within the last few years, more than 100 new families have joined the shul; the current membership numbers more than 600 families. With 500-plus people davening at the shul on Shabbat, multiple minyanim were created to serve the growing congregation. The proposed new education wing of the shul will offer rooms for groups and classes as well as a new beit midrash. The lobby will be refurbished and enlarged, creating additional social space for various projects. The simcha room will be expanded, with a newly designed and updated kitchen, allowing for larger catering events as families celebrate happy milestones or participate in community events.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen, Morah d’Asra of Agudath Sholom, is proud of the congregation for mobilizing this generation to prepare for the next. Serving as senior rabbi for 13 years, Rabbi Cohen explained, “Our approach in the capital campaign is rooted in the Jewish values that whether one gives a lot or little, we ask people to give from the heart. People have responded from their hearts. We are grateful for the broad support from our members towards our renovation. We are building for the future.”
Agudath Sholom has a deep history. On September 7, 1889, 22 members formally declared themselves as “Agudath Sholom Synagogue,” or a “society for peace,” with davening taking place in people’s homes. In the early 1900s, the congregation bought its first parcel of land for $1000 and a new building project began. The year 1904 saw the opening of Agudath Sholom on Greylock Place, housing both the shul and a Talmud Torah. However, misfortune struck in 1932, when the Greylock Synagogue was completely gutted by fire. Davening then at the Jewish Center on Prospect Street, six years passed before the congregation erected a new building on Grove Street, in time for the High Holidays. Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, a 22-year-old student studying for his semicha, was hired to be the shul’s rabbi, where he served with distinction for almost 45 years, energizing the shul with his concentration on bringing in a younger generation. The current building at Strawberry Hill Avenue and Colonial Road was dedicated in 1965. Many of those who were in their teens during Rabbi Ehrenkranz’s tenure are today’s officers of the shul.
The congregation recently sold off a piece of property next to the shul to a developer who will be building 60 homes. Empty nesters living in large homes a distance from the shul will surely be attracted to new, smaller homes very near the shul. As young, religious people recognize the opportunity to move into the homes vacated by older shul members, the congregation will continue to grow and prosper.
Always, Agudath Sholom presents itself as a “kehila,” an extension of a family, providing a bonding of a people whose aim is to protect, aid, build, educate and maintain the religious convictions of its members. Rabbi Cohen offered, “As a shul, we offer multiple gateways of entry for people regardless of their background to provide spiritual growth, connection and deeper meaning in their lives. We are excited about the future and pray that God’s presence dwells not only in our building but in everyone who is part of our wonderful community.”
By Yvette Finkelstein