Living Stone parishioners welcomed in new home in Washington synagogue

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 12:24 a.m.

When Living Stone Community Church members showed Beth Israel Synagogue's board a logo they intend to hang to direct people to their worship service, they worried their Jewish friends might be upset that it included a cross.

“We said: ‘It's a church; of course it will have a cross on it,' ” Marilyn Posner, president of the Beth Israel board, said with a laugh.

The logo would hang in the building that has housed the synagogue for nearly 60 years. For the past three months, Living Stone has hosted its worship services in the basement.

“It was neat to see how God brought us together,” said the Rev. Paul Harrington, founder of Living Stone Community.

Beth Israel moved to Washington's North Avenue in 1953 and is the only synagogue in the county. In recent years, upkeep of the building became difficult for its small, aging congregation to manage. Yet board members did not want to relocate.

“We knew we had to find a way to keep it,” Posner said. “This is the center of our religious life.”

When members of the non-denominational Living Stone Community Church realized the rented space in the Youth for Christ building in Washington no longer would accommodate its growth, church officials approached the Beth Israel board about using the basement. It has a gymnasium, classrooms and great room.

“It really met our needs for space,” Harrington said.

The church, started in 2004, attracts about 120 people on Sundays. The worship space can accommodate up to 300.

The Living Stone group plastered and painted before holding the first worship service there in October.

“They've been very good tenants,” Posner said.

Harrington said the congregations invited one another to holiday celebrations and might host a combined picnic in the summer.

“We have a mutual respect and care and concern for each other,” Harrington said. “I'm as pleased as can be.”

There are hints of the groups' differences — for example, a sign reminding everyone the shared kitchen is kosher.

Rabbi David Novitsky quotes a passage from Isaiah 56:7 — “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” — when discussing the arrangement.

“Anybody in Washington who needs space or assistance, we're always here to help,” he said.

Beth Israel reactivated its religious school in the fall with teachers from Washington & Jefferson College's Hillel Society, an organization for Jewish students. The classes about Jewish history and culture resumed after a year's absence because more people knew about the congregation, Posner said.

Students Zoe Levenson and Jacqueline Radin made it their mission to find children to teach.

“We had talked about how to become more affiliated with the synagogue as a group,” said Levenson, 20, a junior.

New board member Kathy Shapell, 47, of Wheeling, W.Va., is excited about bringing youths into the synagogue.

“You have to have the next generation in order to survive and thrive,” she said.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948.

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