In the Beginning…

Adat Chaverim began in the mid ‘90s as a question: “Why isn’t there a Reform congregation in Collin County?” At the time, there was only one other congregation—a small Conservative shul—in the area. The closest major Reform synagogue was Temple Shalom, which was 11 miles away; Temple Emanu-El, one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, was nearly 20 miles distant. But it wasn’t merely geographic distance that separated Collin County from these established congregations: the communities that they served were very different as well.

And yet, there was obviously a large number of Reform Jews (many of them unaffiliated with a congregation) in the Plano, McKinney, Allen and Frisco areas. Some of them had migrated from the Central and North Dallas areas in search of better schools and more affordable homes. Others had moved to be closer to the burgeoning technology and telecom companies in Richardson and Plano. Still others had newly moved to the area in connection with their careers at some of the major companies headquartered in Plano, including Electronic Data Systems, Frito-Lay, and J.C. Penney. Indeed, there was a Reform Jewish community already in place, but it was without a center.

“Are we Completely Crazy if We Do This?”

On Rosh Hashanah 1996/5757, Cheryl and David Goldstein were talking with David’s parents, Ken and Ellen Goldstein, over the holiday meal. Again, Cheryl and David wondered aloud why there was not yet a Reform congregation in the area…and Ken said, “Well, why don’t you start one?” It was not a glib question: Ken and Ellen had been one of the founding families of Temple Shalom in the 1960s, and were still members there. Both families began to discuss what would be involved in the process.

During the last week of December 1996, Cheryl and David met for the first time with Rabbi Lawrence “Jake” Jackofsky, Director of the Southwest Council of the UAHC, to explore starting a new congregation. Armed with many suggestions, and encouraged by Rabbi Jake (whose response to the question, “Are we completely crazy if we do this?” was, “Yes, but do it anyway!), Cheryl and David set about contacting their Jewish friends in the area, asking if anyone would be interested in discussing the idea.

“We’re An ‘Us’ Now!”

On February 6, 1997, Cheryl and David met at their home with Dr. Arlene Sachs, Helen Kohn, Ina DeLage and Sherri Massarella. They talked about their experiences with other congregations, and what their dreams for a new congregation in Collin County would look like. At the end of the meeting, Arlene said, “Well, it looks like we’re an ‘us’ now!” And we were.

The as-yet unnamed congregation held its first official function, Purim Family Night, on March 22, 1997, in the community room of Plano Bank & Trust, with about 12 families attending. Two new members read the entire Megillah to a roomful of impatient children, while others prepared hamentaschen and other refreshments. One month later, on April 25, 1997, the congregation held its first Shabbat service, led by Rabbi Jake, and observed its first life-cycle event with the naming of Neil and Joanna Rudoff’s daughter, Lindsay.

The Naming of the Congregation

With interest in the new congregation growing daily, 10 members met with Rabbi Jake in April 1997 to work on a more formal organization. The last and most challenging task was to name the congregation. Rabbi Jake brought along a list of names of other Reform congregations, but nothing seemed to fit. He led a brainstorming discussion during which we tried to identify the qualities that we felt made the congregation different. The themes of friendship and Jewish community, among others, surfaced frequently. We tried many names on for size, but none seemed quite right. Then, Jake suggested “Adat Chaverim” – “Community of Friends”. There was a silent, magic pause for a moment…and suddenly, we all agreed. In two words, we had captured the essence of what we were feeling; and the fact that the name was entirely in Hebrew made it undeniably a Jewish community. Rabbi Jake later described the moment as akin to being present at the birth of a child. It was one of many times in the history of the congregation that we felt the presence of God very close to us.

Now that we had a name, an identity, things progressed quickly. The first officers and board of trustees were elected in May 1997, and a set of bylaws was adopted. Rabbi Jake led Shabbat services at the end of that month—we had already outgrown the bank’s community room, and we were now meeting in the much larger public room at one of the Plano public libraries. One month later, on June 27, 1997, members of the congregation led Shabbat services on their own for the first time.

The Congregation is Dedicated

By August 1997, Adat Chaverim had 17 member families. On September 13, 1997, we held a Havdalah Service and Congregation Dedication at the Plano Centre. The service was widely publicized and open to the entire Jewish community. Rabbi Jake led the service, but we were also blessed to have the help and participation of Rabbi David Stern and Rabbi Nancy Kasten from Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, and Rabbi Barry Diamond, Education Director at Temple Emanu-El, who played guitar and led the music.

The following month, Adat Chaverim celebrated the High Holidays for the first time. Rabbi David Forman, from the UAHC office in Jerusalem, led the services. The congregation used a beautiful, portable aron hakodesh designed and built by members Ed Brussel and Donald Riggin, and a sefer Torah loaned by Temple Emanu-El.

More Services and a New Home

In November, the congregation went from holding Shabbat services once a month to twice a month, on the first and third Fridays. By this time, Adat Chaverim had 26 member families. Many of the members had young children, so an informal religious education program began meeting once a month with 15 children enrolled. Also in November, the congregation began meeting at the First Congregational Church in Plano, our first semi-permanent home.

By January 1998, the congregation had grown to 31 member families. The Religious School, with 28 children now enrolled, began holding classes twice monthly at the Jewish Community Center’s North Branch in Plano, with one of the two classes being the Hadassah “Training Wheels” curriculum taught by the JCC’s Laura Seymour. That same month saw the congregation’s first official Annual Meeting, with formal election of a six-person board, approval of the first operating budget of $23,845, and approval of a building fund.

Our First Torah

On June 19, 1998, Adat Chaverim celebrated another simcha with a special service to dedicate the Rosen Family Torah, a 75-year-old family treasure donated to the congregation by member Ina DeLage and her siblings, who joined us for the dedication. Rabbi Jackofsky and Rabbi Bernard Honan, the sofer who repaired and restored the sefer Torah, led the service. The following morning, Rabbi Honan taught a class on “The Work of the Sofer,” showing how a sefer Torah is painstakingly created and maintained.

Later in June, the Board of Trustees held its first long-range planning retreat. Out of this day-long meeting came the congregation’s first five-year plan.

The Growth Continues

In October 1998, the Board learned that the First Congregational Church would soon be vacating their building. While Adat Chaverim was not yet in a position to purchase it, the congregation was large enough to need a regular meeting place. A search began for a new location, and after several months, a suitable space was found, in a shopping center at 6150 Independence Parkway in Plano. On January 20, 1999, the Board of Trustees authorized the search team to begin negotiating a lease at this location. The terms of the lease were approved at a special congregational meeting on March 15, 1999. At this time, the congregation had about 38 member families.

Also in March 1999, the congregation took another major step forward when the Board voted unanimously to join the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Rabbi Jake and the UAHC Southwest Council staff had been invaluable in helping Adat Chaverim get started.

On April 24, 1999, Sarah Kline became the congregation’s first Bat Mitzvah, in a service held at the Plano Chamber of Commerce building.

The New Synagogue Takes Shape

On May 16, 1999, construction of the new sanctuary began. The new space had previously been a dance studio—two large studios with mirrors and wooden floors, with a long hallway down the middle. Virtually all of the interior walls and other furnishings had to be demolished. The congregation turned this task into the first fundraiser for the new facility: instead of a “groundbreaking”, we had a “wall-breaking”, with donations taken for each chance to swing at a wall with a sledgehammer. Local newspapers covered the event.

Many members of the congregation provided the labor and funding for the build-out of the new synagogue through the long, hot summer of 1999. Congregation member Ed Brussel acted as general contractor, and taught many others with no construction experience how to install wall studs, hang and finish drywall, do trim carpentry, and numerous other skills. The floor plan included a large 180-seat sanctuary/multi-purpose room with a raised bimah, an office and a library/classroom in front, a shale-tiled foyer, and a full kitchen. The construction attracted considerable attention in the Jewish community, and by the end of the summer Adat Chaverim’s membership had grown to 45 families.

With a final, mad flurry of work, the new synagogue was ready for its consecration service on Shabbat morning, August 7, 1999. Rabbi Jake once again officiated, and all of the members who had made real the dream of having a “place of our own” participated in the service. The Torah entered the sanctuary for the first time in a joyous procession, and members of the congregation representing four different generations shared their personal reflections on the new synagogue.

Our First Student Rabbi

In late August 1999, the Religious School began meeting every week, with more than 50 children enrolled in five classes. A few weeks later, Adat Chaverim’s first student rabbi, Shari Heinrich, led High Holiday services for the 65 member families and many guests. Rabbi Heinrich came to Plano once a month for the rest of the 1999-2000 academic year; members of the congregation led services every other Friday night with musical help from talented cantorial soloist Sherrie Stohl. The congregation’s membership continued to swell, rising to over 80 families by the middle of 2000. A weekly Torah study group began meeting on Saturday mornings.

On April 29, 2000, William Kellogg became our first Bar Mitzvah celebrated in our new home, with over 100 people attending this simcha.

Religious School Expansion

By summer 2000, it became apparent that the Religious School was outgrowing its meeting space in the current synagogue, so the congregation leased an adjoining suite to provide four more classrooms and an office for the school. When the new Religious School wing opened in August 2000, effectively increasing the synagogue’s square footage by 50%, the school had expanded to 84 children and had already filled all of the available space. Student Rabbi Joshua Lief served Adat Chaverim about every third week during the 2000-2001 academic year.

New Leadership Structure and More Programming

During 2000 and early 2001, the Board of Trustees realized the increasing need for a diverse range of services and programming, and put in place a strong committee structure, including active committees in charge of Nominating/Leadership Development, Membership, Long Range Planning, Social Action, and Adult Education. The congregation’s library expanded to nearly 800 titles, and its catalog went on-line so that it could be searched from anywhere on the Internet. A 12-week adult Hebrew class began, as did the Brotherhood, Sisterhood, Youth Choir, and CFTY– the congregation’s youth group.

The Second Long Range Plan

In Spring 2001, the Long Range Planning Committee held a series of “focus groups,” designed to solicit input from the now 105 member families on what the growth priorities of the congregation should be. From these meetings emerged a clear picture of the needs of the members: most importantly, the leadership of a full time, permanent rabbi, followed closely by even better children’s religious education and the purchase of a building. As a direct result of these meetings and the LRP Committee’s subsequent recommendations, the Board of Trustees voted to hire Trudi Herstein as the new Director of the Religious School (with 104 students expected to be enrolled for 2001-02), and to formally begin the search for a rabbi to be engaged, if possible, by July 2002.

While the search for a rabbi was underway, Adat Chaverim enjoyed the services of third year rabbinical student Linda Steigman every other week through May 2002.

Our First Full Time Rabbi

The congregation formally organized a Rabbinic Search Committee during the summer of 2001. The Search Committee had the opportunity to interview several excellent candidates, and in March 2002 unanimously recommended to the Board of Trustees that the congregation engage Rabbi Jordan Parr, then with Congregation Children of Israel in Augusta, Georgia. Rabbi Parr and his family moved to Plano and joined Adat Chaverim in August 2002. Since then, the congregation has grown to more than 150 families.

Rabbi Wendy D. Pein

On August 1, 2008, Adat Chaverim was delighted to welcome that Rabbi Wendy D. Pein to Adat Chaverim as our new Rabbi. Rabbi Pein enjoys the distinction of being the first woman to be the Head Rabbi of a Congregation in North Texas.

Her mission: to show how Judaism is relevant and meaningful to congregant’s lives. Rabbi Pein reflects the Congregation’s strong desire to welcome the community, to demonstrate not only growth but increased presence and assistance to that community.

Previously Rabbi Pein was the Associate Rabbi of a large congregation in Westchester New York. The Rabbi, her two daughters, husband, and entire family are excited about their move to Plano. Her door is always open to anyone who wishes to discuss religion or their search to find meaning in Judaism. She will be actively involved with the Religious School, B’nai Mitzvah and B’nai Torah Programs.

(To be continued…)