Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh turned a new page in its 112-year history Sunday, downsizing from its sprawling synagogue at 76 Noyes St. in Portland to a smaller, more affordable and easier-to-care-for space at Temple Beth El down the street.

Several hundred members and friends of what was also known as the Noyes Street Shul attended the deconsecration ceremony. They prayed, ate and reminisced before forming a line to escort the synagogue’s Torahs to their new quarters in Temple Beth El at 400 Deering Ave.

The congregation will remain separate and will continue to observe its Modern Orthodox Jewish traditions.

“It doesn’t matter where we gather. It matters that we gather,” member Jim Lockman of Portland told the crowd.

Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh had been pondering its future for some time as its membership dwindled. The Saturday service was drawing 20 to 25 people at most, said Dr. Natan Kahn, the congregation’s president.

Meanwhile, the congregation was trying to cover the growing expense of maintaining its 62-year-old building.

“With changing demographics, it was no longer feasible,” Kahn said.

The congregation hasn’t been able to afford its own rabbi since Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld and his family left to live and work in Israel two years ago. The congregation has been relying on lay leadership and interning rabbis to preside over its services ever since.

Member Carol Aft of Falmouth said Herzfeld’s departure was a blow to her and others.

“He was very progressive in the way he led the whole synagogue and did test the limits,” Aft said.

Shaarey Tphiloh was founded in 1904 and for many years was located at 145 Newbury St. in the Old Port. It moved in 1954 to the Noyes Street building, a modern structure with sweeping interior beams and simple bronze decorations.

“Before this building was here, this used to be a field that filled up with water every once in a while,” recalled Phil Levinsky, 89, of Portland, a member of Temple Beth El whose mother grew up in Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh.

The building recently was offered for sale at a price of $1.2 million. It was sold to Portland Community Squash, which intends to open squash courts where Shaarey Tphiloh’s services were once held.

On Sunday, much of the synagogue’s contents had been packed up. Kahn said some items are being donated to other synagogues, some will go into storage and some will be sold through a religious artifacts company.

Many members said Sunday that it is not the building or the things that define Shaarey Tphiloh. They expressed optimism about the congregation’s future.

“We are sad and yet there is something to look forward to,” said Stan Pollack, whose parents joined Shaarey Tphiloh when they moved to Portland in 1955 to start what became a chain of jewelry stores.

“It has become like a home to my family,” Pollack said.


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