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Jewish center in Ambridge marks 100th anniversary

| Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, 7:48 p.m.

In a world where tradition is becoming more difficult to hold onto, leaders at the Beth Samuel Jewish Center in Ambridge say they find a way.

The center kicked off its 100th anniversary celebration last month. Events and presentations are planned through April.

Barbara Wilson, congregational administrator, said the key to the center's longevity has been its ability to evolve to fit the needs of its members.

With members residing in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, the center is one of the last in the area.

“There is still a Jewish presence in the City of Pittsburgh, especially Squirrel Hill and the South Hills,” Wilson said. “For a family like mine, we travel from Ellwood City to Ambridge for synagogue events so going to Pittsburgh would not be feasible on a regular basis.”

The only synagogue in Beaver County, the Beth Samuel Jewish Center serves about 80 families and members range in age from infants to those well into their 90s.

Reaching out to families to get them involved in the programming is important, Wilson said.

“We have a wonderful religious school program that uses experiential learning, many hands-on activities and monthly social action activities. This helps to interest younger families,” she said.

“In addition to High Holy Day services and religious school, we offer holiday programs, social action programs, monthly adult education lectures and more.”

The center also offers a new “Spirituality Series” that includes monthly Torah yoga or meditation classes.

Edgeworth resident Gail Murray, who serves as the center's history chairperson, is working on 100th anniversary events.

“I am a graphic designer, but I've always enjoyed history,” said Murray, a member since 2003. “The anniversary project has allowed me to transfer history into art.”

Murray has designed numerous presentations, including one that illustrates synagogues in the Beaver County area, the locations of each, and the time period in which each was active.

The 100th anniversary is a time for all to appreciate the hard work of the entire congregation in keeping Jewish tradition alive, Murray said.

Events such as a Hanukkah party, Purim carnival, Sukkot program, Shabbat Across America and monthly adult education lectures are open to the public.

In addition to programming, the Beth Samuel Jewish Center reaches out to other groups in the community.

In March and August, members prepared and served meals at The Ladle soup kitchen in Ambridge, and some members make weekly deliveries to the Center for Hope's food pantry.

In January, members will run their annual Lasagna Project, assembling lasagnas to be distributed at the Center for Hope to families who need a hot meal.

“Because of our size, everyone is involved,” Murray said. “You really take ownership of your role here.”

Christina Sheleheda is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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