Park Synagogue

The dome of Park Synagogue's Cleveland Heights building, designed by Erich Mendelsohn

The Park Synagogue, or Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo, is a Conservative synagogue with campuses in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, Ohio, suburbs of Cleveland. It is one of the oldest congregations in Ohio. Senior Rabbi Joshua Skoff began his 20th year with the congregation in August, 2009.


The synagogue was originally Orthodox when it was founded in 1869. The original name was Anshe Emeth Synagogue, and it was located in downtown Cleveland. By 1888, however, arguments between congregants over the direction of the temple had grown too divisive, and so some members left to form a Reform congregation.

The remaining members built a new temple in 1903. In 1917, two congregations, Anshe Emeth and Beth Tefilo, merged to form a larger congregation, since many Jews were moving east by this time. This combined congregation bought land on East 105th Street. This property would eventually be the Cleveland Jewish Center, and construction began in 1920.

Construction was completed by 1922, and the CJC became the major focal point of Jewish life in Cleveland. In addition to a synagogue, the Center had a ballroom, a recreation center, and an indoor swimming pool. It was also at this time that the congregation became a Conservative one under the direction of Rabbi Solomon Goldman.

With this new direction came changes that were highly controversial for the formerly-Orthodox attendees. Women and men were allowed to sit together, and the selling of Aliyot was forbidden. These changes resulted in violence against the Rabbi, and eventually an "Anti-Goldman" faction attempted to file legal action, which was appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, who refused to hear the case. Rabbi Goldman left for Palestine in 1929. Rabbi Goldman later became a leading rabbi in Chicago.

Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo went through a number of rabbis until the arrival of Armond Cohen, a 26-year-old rabbi. Burdened with heavy debt, Cohen and lay leaders raised funds to relieve the congregation. A second problem was that, since 1917, the majority of Jews in the area had moved to the east side of Cleveland, specifically Cleveland Heights. To provide for the Jewish population there, Cohen and the congregation purchased the defunct Park School and its property. This became the eastern Cleveland Jewish Center.

The following summer, in 1943, a day care and nursery school was added to the Center, and an adjacent lot of 21 acres (85,000 m2) was purchased from John D. Rockefeller. In 1945, a fire broke out, destroying most of the old Park School buildings, as well as the synagogue's library and Torah scrolls. Erich Mendelsohn was hired to design the new synagogue. Completed in 1950, Park Synagogue is considered a significant example of modern synagogue design; one writer comments that its "adventurous use of space is masterly; there are surprises round every corner and unexpected vistas at every turn."[1]

In 1986, to meet the needs of a Jewish population that had expanded into a variety of Cleveland suburbs, Park Synagogue East was opened in Pepper Pike, a suburb of Cleveland. A new facility for the East Campus was completed in 2005.[2]

In 1990, Rabbi Skoff was called to serve The Park Synagogue, first as Associate Rabbi and then as Senior Rabbi. Skoff quickly emerged as a leading orator and statesman, succeeding in unifying and re-energizing the congregation. For the first time, in 1993-1995, Park Synagogue was successful in establishing an Endowment Fund, to support and enhance the synagogue's mission and programs. In 1996, at the age of 36, Skoff was given life tenure with the congregation. Under Rabbi Skoff's leadership, Park Synagogue is one of the largest Conservative congregations in the country and has been awarded seven Solomon Schechter Synagogue of Excellence Awards. In 2008, Rabbi Skoff was honored with the newly-endowed Leighton Rosenthal Chair in Rabbinics, the first rabbi in Cleveland to be so honored by a congregation.

The Park Synagogue Today

Membership has grown to roughly 1,700 families. Park has won Excellence Awards from the Conservative movement for Worship and Ceremonies, Library Computerization, Strategic Planning, Access and Concern for the Disabled, Programs and Celebrations, and Fundraising. The most recent award, for Worship services, recognizes the synagogue's reputation as a leader in worship experiences that appeal to young and old. Through interactive learning led by the rabbi, congregational involvement as prayer leaders, Klezmer music, and a personal, inclusive style, prayer is made accessible and relevant to all.

The Park Synagogue became one of the earliest Conservative synagogues in the country to build and maintain its own "Mikvah", located on the Park Main campus and completed in 2000. A "Mikvah" is a ritual immersion pool of water, used for moments of transition in a person's life. Converting to Judaism, getting married, surviving serious illness -- all of these are moments of transition which can be marked through immersing in the Mikvah. Some women elect to visit the Mikvah on a monthly basis, in order to mark the transition of the monthly menstrual cycle. In the late 1990's, Rabbi Skoff and then-President Stuart Garson discussed with Charlotte Goldberg the building of a new Mikvah. This was needed because the newly-opened Orthodox Mikvah was not made available for ceremonies led by non-Orthodox Rabbis. Through the generosity of Charlotte Goldberg and family, a Community Mikvah, open to all Jews and all branches of Judaism, was made possible.

The Park Synagogue was honored in 2005 when Senior Rabbi Joshua Skoff was chosen to speak and represent the American Jewish community at the White House for the ceremonial lighting of the Hanukkah menorah with the First Family and White House staff. Rabbi Skoff spoke words marking the occasion, recited a blessing and lit the menorah as the President and First Lady Laura Bush watched and participated. The menorah used was borrowed from The Park Synagogue's collection of art, and had been saved from the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

In April, 2008, The Park Synagogue East facility was the host site for an episode of The Food Network's "Dinner:Impossible" series. In the episode, celebrity chef Michael Symon is charged with the task of preparing a complete Kosher For Passover Seder meal for 100 people, and is given six hours to do so. The episode, aired in August, 2008, shows Symon being supervised in the Park Synagogue kitchen by Rabbi Skoff and caterer Marlene Leitson, to ensure his adherence to the traditional Passover rules. The episode first aired in August, 2008.

Park Synagogue has continued its long devotion to education with preschool and youth associations such as Kadima and United Synagogue Youth. Park's Hebrew School has been designated a "School of Excellence" by the Conservative movement. In recent years, Park has developed a strong adult education program, with Bible, Talmud, and Torah Studies. Adult B'ne Mitzvahs have increased greatly. Outreach to the intermarried has been emphasized. In addition, multiple outreach programs and associations such as Brotherhood and Sisterhood allow for participation in the Jewish community. Adult programming prior to the High Holidays has included public officials who have appeared to the Park Synagogue community. Recent speakers at the pre-holiday Institute (in chronological order) have included former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, Ohio Education Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Governor Ted Strickland and U.S. Representative Marsha Fudge.


  1. Brian de Breffny, The Synagogue (Macmillan, 1st American ed., 1978), ISBN 0025303103, pp. 196-197.
  2. Elliott, John (November 2005). "Come Together: Tradition, innovation merge at Park Synagogue East Campus". Properties Magazine. Retrieved 2008-08-09., Wolf blitzer, "Situation Room", Dec. 6,2005. The Park Synagogue Bulletin, September, 2009., Episode# 1E0501, "No Pork, No Pressure." Joe Crea, "Michael Symon Tackles Kosher Cooking,", Sept. 2, 2008.

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