MacDonalds shul 248.88.
(photo credit: Emily Hochberg )
When the congregation of the New Synagogue of Netanya, better known as the "MacDonald's shul," gathers on Saturday, it will be marking a 30-year milestone for new olim.
Three decades ago, American-born Zvi Fink founded an English-language lecture series for a group of Anglo immigrants that would become possibly the longest-running of its kind in the country.
Fink himself made aliya 37 years ago with his wife, Carole, and became a founding member of the Orthodox community made up of mostly British, Canadian and American retirees in this seaside city. The idea for the lecture series grew out of a desire to honor his late mother, Malka Fink, who had instilled in him a deep love for Judaism and Israel. Since then, the lecture series has evolved into a yearly shabbaton, a weekend's worth of dialogue and discussion.
"This Saturday night is the anniversary of when my mother passed away quite young," says Fink, who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. "My parents were very involved in their synagogue, and I thought the best way to remember her, and honor my parents, was to create an educational series in her name."
"So when my mother passed away, it was, how do I do it?" he continues. "I could give money and put a plaque on the wall, but an ongoing educational commitment is what my parents would have wanted."
MacDonald's Shul, nicknamed for its address on McDonald Street - after the first US ambassador to Israel, James Grover McDonald, not the fast food chain - became a haven for olim looking for a like-minded community in Israel, a place to share their roots, language and common ideals.
"The synagogue started in 1973 as an Anglo congregation, and was one of the first institutions to hire its own rabbi; it was a very forward institution in terms of its own history," Fink recalls. "There are now lots all over the country, but we were one of the first to say, 'let's have a private congregation not funded by the state,' which was a very radical idea at the time."
THOUGH HE left Netanya nearly 20 years ago to be closer to family in Modi'in, he remains actively involved in the lecture series he helped create and continues to sponsor.
"When you start something like that, you have to keep going with it because you made a commitment to the community. I go back every year and enjoy the weekend with some of our old friends," he says.
Old friends who, after 30 years, are slowly being replaced with a new generation of Anglos.
"Today, a great deal are British, Canadian, South African, and a new generation of children who are born Israelis and have started a younger movement," he says. "When we started off, I was one of the youngest, in my 30s, and most of the congregation was the retired Netanya beach community, so a lot of the original members are no longer with us. But it keeps renewing, and it's a vibrant community that started from scratch, and now it's a modern building and community with various lectures held every week."
This weekend's milestone lecture will be delivered by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, dean of the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on contemporary topics such as marriage and honoring one's parents, as well as on the upcoming 10th of Tevet fast. Past speakers have included noteworthy Jewish figures, including high-profile rabbis like Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, as well as philosophers and writers.
"We've really had a lecture series of quite high intellectual involvement in terms of different opinions and deep subjects, really philosophical lectures with a lot of thought put into it," Fink says. "We've had very significant people come and speak, and I have to give all the credit to the congregation itself because they've invited the speakers."
For Fink, now 64, the anniversary isn't just about hitting a milestone or increasing participation. It's about honoring family, commitment and Israel.
"My parents were very active in synagogue, so it comes from a commitment to community and to education," he explains. "They had five children, four of whom now live in Israel, which shows you the kind of commitment and background we were given. And now there are grandchildren and great grandchildren, and it's already a tribe."
As for the lectures, this anniversary will be just one of many more, in what's become an established tradition and source of unity for a relocated community.
"Anywhere from 100-200 people show up for the lectures, and people keep coming back," says Fink. "You can't keep something going for 30 years if there's no one in the audience. There's a need for it."