Formed in May 2006, Reform Jewish Congregation Ner Tamid remains small with about 55 congregants, welcoming many interfaith families.
Past president Matt Berenson said his congregation is planning to move into a new building in the next three months, pending approval of city licenses and permits. Though Kennesaw is north from the congregation’s usual meeting location, Berenson said the city is more centrally located and accessible to all members.
“When we first started, we had many people come from west Cobb and we found there was a definite need in the Cobb area,” Berenson said. “But that extended to Cherokee County and Bartow County and this is truly a more centralized location from the west and northwest areas for people to come down and meet us.”
The congregation has held services and gatherings in Christ Luthern Church on West Sandtown Road in west Cobb and various other locations over the years, but having its own facility would allow members to have a place to call home.
“It’s time for us to get our own space,” past president Laura Catlin said. “We’re no longer in our infancy. Some of our adult members have had their kids go all the way through our religious school program. People are confident we’re going to be here for a long time.”
Berenson, a Smyrna resident who served as president from 2011-12, said leaders have plans for Ner Tamid’s new location to become a community gathering place.
“It truly just opens up the opportunity to do so much more than we could do before,” he said. “From our services and gatherings every Friday night to our religious school, it’s a chance for the community to get together so much more and be with each other.”
Ner Tamid presented a “Meat & Greet Sermon in Song” Shabbat service Friday night, where Rabbi Tom Leibschutz hosted a potluck dinner with kosher-style meat, featuring Hebrew National Hot Dogs.
Catlin said the event featured a condensed version of a traditional Friday night service.
“Every service has a song and music in it, but this was a more brief version that was more ramped up with songs to create a more interactive environment,” Catlin said. “It’s really a chance to get to know our congregation and have a more social aspect to it. A lot of services are usually led by the rabbi in a fairly quiet, reflective setting, but this is more about inviting everybody to sing along.”
Being an interfaith congregation, Berenson said these events help show the community Ner Tamid is welcoming to families choosing to raise their children Jewish though one parent may not be Jewish.
“We are definitely trying to make sure local families and adults have opportunities to be with other people with similar backgrounds and similar cultures and enjoy all celebrations we have,” Berenson said.
Kim Epstein, who converted to Judaism five years ago, said she came across a newspaper listing for Ner Tamid in 2006 when she was looking for a Jewish school program for her daughter, as children typically enter Jewish school in first grade.
“I was met with unbelievable warmth,” she said. “They had an incredibly supportive, engaging group of teachers. That’s where my journey began to conversion.”
She and her husband, Jeff, completed a nine-month B’Nai Mitzvah program in January after her daughter had a bat mitzvah a year ago.
“My husband was born Jewish, but he did not have the opportunity to go through the ceremony that the kids typically do at age 13. He just felt like he always wanted to do it,” Epstein said. “It was kind of emotional having our daughter go through it. Having never been through the bar mitzvah process and having it with her, I realized it was something I wanted to do.”
Epstein said she found the ability to participate in an active role, whether volunteering with the school or women’s group, a very appealing aspect of Ner Tamid.
“It was a chance to be part of the ground floor of building something, being able to contribute to the growth, whereas in a large congregation sometimes you don’t get all that hands-on experience and have a voice in growing members,” Epstein said.