In 1959, Rabbi Alexander Schindler helped 25 families from Hingham, Hull and surrounding towns organize a Reform Jewish congregation, Temple Beth Am. They borrowed space to hold Shabbat Services, to observe holy days and to provide classes for children and social and educational activities for adults. For ten years, the group met in various locations- the Boy Scout Building in Hull, Pope Memorial Church in Cohasset, the Third Universalist Church in Weymouth, the Pyrotech Building in the Hingham Shipyard, the House of Prayer Lutheran Church and, beginning in 1969, the First Parish-Old Ship Church and its parish house in Hingham. During these early years, itinerant, part-time rabbis conducted Shabbat and holiday services, bar and bat mitzvah service, and Sunday school classes. A portable ark lovingly built by Herbie Koch held the sacred Torah Scrolls.
In 1969, a group of 16 families reorganized as The Jewish Community Center of the South Shore, its stated mission to provide a diverse Jewish experience with the South Shore area. In 1974, Rabbi Benjamin Rudavsky was hired and programs focused on families with children. In 1976, the Congregation voted to change its name, becoming Congregation Sha’aray Shalom, congregation Gates of Peace. Seeking a permanent home, in 1977 the Board of Trustees purchased land at 1112 Main Street in Hingham and constructed a new building. In 1980, this new building was dedicated. Congregation Sha’aray Shalom had a home of its own at last.
In 1981, the first full-time rabbi, Rabbi Stephen Karol, became spiritual leader and principal of the religious school. The congregation had grown to 140 families. By 1986, the “new” building no longer accommodated the growing enrollment, with over 285 children in the school: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services again took place in borrowed space- at the South Shore country Club, later at Hingham High School. The Temple building was expanded in 1994. New classrooms, social hall, library and office space and a redesigned sanctuary permitted many more opportunities for the community to gather.
Programs had grown as well, with emphasis on educating children and adults, in keeping with Jewish tradition. In 1988, Joan Carr became the part-time Director of Education, and in 1990 began working in that capacity on a full-time basis; children enrolled in Sunday religious school and twice weekly Hebrew classes. Visiting scholars and lectures on the middle east Jewish law, societal concerns and culture were open to members.
The congregation welcomed its present rabbi, Rabbi Shira Joseph, in 2003. Because music is an integral part of worship, since 1978 cantorial soloists have led singing and chanting at services, and a choir and instrumentalists have enhanced holiday services. Cantor Steven Weiss was welcomed in 2004 as the first invested cantor, serving also as Director of Education.
The congregation from its inception has offed social activities, adult education courses, speakers, films, as well as musical shows, holiday festivities and the sharing of life cycle events. Together, members have connected to bless new babies, celebrate marriages and mourn the loss of loved ones.
Early on, the congregation established a Social Action Committee, in keeping with the Torah’s teachings to perform Mitzvot-good deeds-and give Tzedakah- give charitably. Members have helped people in need both in the congregation and in the wider community, and have supported many worthy causes, local and Jewish organizations. In the 1970’s congregants sponsored resettlement of a Laotian refugee family, and in the 1980’s a Russian ‘refusenik’ family; in the 1980’s and 1990’s support went to Ethiopian Jews rescued by Israel. Ongoing collections have been offered to Wellspring in Hull and the Hingham Interfaith Food Pantry. Each year the school children and the youth group have adopted mitzvahs projects.
In 2009, the Temple opened up interior and outdoor spaces to establish the JCC Early Learning Center, run by Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, in affiliation with combined Jewish Philanthropies. Children of members and non-members attend weekday classes for toddler and preschool levels.
Congregation Sha’aray Shalom marked 50 years of the Jewish community’s presence on the south Shore in 2009 and looks forward to many more years of being an active member of the community.