BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — The only Jewish temple in the city may close next year.
Temple Shalom, 287 Lafayette St., founded more than a century ago, has put its building up for sale and is exploring a merger.
“I think people are very sad — I know I am,” said Tom Cheatham, a past president and chairman of the Futures Committee.
“Certainly, if this goes through, we will all mourn the fact there won’t be an institutional Jewish presence in Salem after so many years and so much support from the city. That’s a very difficult thing to have to face and deal with, but we certainly remain grateful.”
Founded in 1898 as Sons of Jacob, the Conservative congregation built the current temple in the 1950s, when it had several hundred members and was a strong and active presence in the Salem community.
Temple Shalom is the “longest continually established synagogue on the North Shore,” according to The Jewish Journal.
However, membership has dropped to 40 couples, 20 singles and only a handful of families with children.
“The active Jewish community in Salem has gotten smaller and smaller,” Cheatham said.
The temple was hit hard a few years ago by a flood that required the basement to be gutted and rebuilt.
“That was very painful and expensive,” Cheatham said.
After years of declining enrollment and continuing financial challenges, the temple began exploring options more than a year ago. It held a series of meetings, culminating in June when the congregation voted to pursue a sale and merger.
A committee is reviewing possible mergers with area Conservative congregations — Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody, Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly and Temple Sinai in Marblehead.
“We’re in research mode right now,” Cheatham said. “We’ll try to (narrow) that group down and then begin serious discussions with one or two of them, probably in the winter.”
Cheatham said there is no timeline and no pressure to reach a decision quickly.
Rabbi Mark Newton and two other part-time clergy, Cantor Michelle Rubinstein and rabbinical intern David Finkelstein, are under contract through May. Services and programs will continue as usual.
The brick temple building is listed at $1.5 million through the Drumlin Group. On more than a half-acre, it has two chapels, including a main sanctuary that seats 500, two kitchens, a large function facility and a preschool.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.