ALBANY–In 1957, Congregation Beth Emeth left its downtown site in Albany for its current home at 100 Academy Rd. Last month as part of the celebration of its 185th anniversary, congregants returned to the former sanctuary on Jay Street. Once again it the words of the Union Prayer Book of the 1950s, traditional prayers and music from the period resounded and clergy in formal black robes led services. Some of the estimated 150 people there remembered attending holiday services and lifecycle events in the building, which is now home to the Wilborn Temple First Church of God in Christ.

Beth Emeth President Robyn Marinstein, left, and her mother, Cynthia Freedman, in the Wilborn Temple sanctuary.

Congregation President Robyn Marinstein, a lifelong Beth Emeth member, came with her mother. She said, “As my mom and I pulled up to the Wilborn Temple, my mom began reminiscing about her time spent at the majestic building and it transformed us back in time, and I could see the joy on her face!”

Being in the old sanctuary, now a church, at first felt “surreal,” she said, “but the more I walked around, noticing the hints of Beth Emeth that remain in the sanctuary, like the Jewish star etched on the clergy chairs, and listening to the memories from my mom and others, hearing questions from those whose first time it was at the building… and observing the awe in folks’ faces as they carefully looked at the detailed woodwork, I couldn’t help but feel proud.”

She added, “It was a special evening that brought together the past and the present both as a congregation and community.”

For those who couldn’t attend in person, the service was also on the congregation’s live-stream and remains available for viewing.

Rabbi Greg Weitzman, left and senior Rabbi Scott Shpeen of Congregation Beth Emeth, on the bimah in traditional clerical robes during the recent 185th anniversary program at the Wilborn Temple.

Senior Rabbi Scott Shpeen told the story of how the building, between Jay and Lancaster streets bordering South Swan Street, came to be. Decades after the initial congregation split into two – a more traditional congregation and one following the changes made by reformers —two descendant congregations merged, forming Congregation Beth Emeth in 1885. Two years later, the building was dedicated, with Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the rabbi when the split occurred, returning to Albany to mark the occasion.

The building, in the Richardson Romanesque style and designed by architect Adolph Fleischman with Isaac Perry, is considered by historians to be one of the few 19th century synagogue buildings left in the United States.

After World War II, with the spread of the automobile, the congregation made the decision that a new, larger home was needed. The current 17-acre site was purchased, with the new building on Academy Rd. opening in 1957. The old building would become the Wilborn Temple.

Wilborn Temple Pastor Solomon Dees, left, with Rabbi Scott Shpeen of Temple Beth Emeth.

Shpeen thanked Pastor Solomon Dees for allowing Beth Emeth to return for the service. It was 15 years ago, Shpeen noted, that the congregation had last held a commemorative Shabbat service at the building. Several members of the Wilborn Temple attended the Shabbat service.

Facing the same parking dilemma that spurred the move, the congregation offered bus transportation from the current synagogue to Jay Street.  Premiere Transportation owner David Brown, a Beth Emeth member had donated the services of two busses.

The two buildings share the same words from the Book of Isaiah on their cornerstones, Shpeen said in his remarks at the service: For my house shall be a house for all people. And he told those attending that he looks forward, past his retirement at the end of June, toward Beth Emeth’s continuing its mission in the Jewish and larger Albany community.