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Tradition! Herzl at 100 - Conservative synagogue to celebrate year-long centennial

By Cody Ellerd

The celebration of this Jewish New Year will extend far beyond Rosh Hashanah for the members of Herzl-Ner Tamid Congregation. Seattle's oldest conservative synagogue, located on Mercer Island, is kicking off its centennial this week with an entire year of events to prompt reflection and revelry about being part of the Jewish community.

Events include a street fair, a variety of history projects and a trip to Israel.

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum said the overall goal of the coming year is to think about ``who we've been and who we are.''

``The world has changed dramatically in the last 100 years,'' Rosenbaum said. ``How have we changed with it, and how has that been reflected in the community?''

He said one of the main challenges of conservative Jews today is trying to reconcile the needs of 3,000 years of traditional wisdom with a modern existence.

``The question of how to integrate those two things has been a continual creative struggle for Jews since we set foot in America,'' he said.

The Herzl Congregation first laid its footprint on Mercer Island in the 1960s. Until then, the group was based in Seattle with a permanent sanctuary in the Central District.

The congregation's founding can be traced back to a meeting of Seattle Jews on Sept. 13, 1906, establishing a conservative synagogue that would become what is now Seattle's largest.

In the 1960s, an eastward migration of Seattle-area Jews brought Herzl to Mercer Island, where it merged with another conservative congregation, Bellevue's Ner Tamid. Ground was broken for Herzl-Ner Tamid's present campus in June 1970.

Rabbi Rosenbaum said this migration out of the city to the suburbs is a trend typical of many ethnic groups by the time they get to the second or third generation on American soil.

After congregating in the city, he said, Seattle's Jewish community began to look for greener lawns, better schools, more privacy and a higher quality of life. The downside of that, he explains, is that because people spread out more, the community lost some of its cohesiveness. But what he is seeing now within the Jewish community, and gives cause to celebrate, is a return to the fold.

``They're missing the warmth,'' he said.

The facilities on East Mercer Way today include a school offering a high quality of religious education that Rosenbaum credits with attracting many Jews to the congregation.

Another source of pride for the rabbi is the way the synagogue has in fact melded the ancient traditions of Judaism with the modern world.

One upcoming event for young people features a Havdalah service, which bids farewell to the Sabbath, followed by an evening of billiards and beer at The Garage, a Seattle bar and pool hall. Then there's the ``Iron Mensch'' series, a program that combines physical exercise with prayer and Torah study. In one recent outing, members went for a Sunday morning bike ride around Mercer Island and then discussed the Jewish symbolism of the bicycle.

``People coming here are going to find traditional Judaism, but at the same time we're very open to the world,'' Rabbi Rosenbaum said. ``This place represents connectedness -- to God, to the Jewish people, to each other. It's a thread of unity that runs through people's lives.''

Sidebar: Herzl-Ner Tamid 100th anniversary street fair

On Sunday, Sept. 18, Wittenberg Waterfront Park on Mercer Island will host the Herzl-Ner Tamid's street fair. The party will be catered by local kosher restaurants. Live entertainment, kids activities and a fine arts and Judaica fair will help fill the day with celebrations of Jewish unity.

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