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One Month Post-Dedication, Schaefer Temple of the High Country Looks Toward the Future

By Ethan Woodhouse

July 16, 2012. A little more than three weeks ago, on June 22, the Schaefer Temple of the High Country opened its doors to more than 350 visitors for the dedication ceremony of the recently completed building of worship.

During an interview prior to the dedication, President Chuck Lieberman recalls declaring “Come on, come all” to the dedication service. The interview sent attendance through the roof, leaving standing-room-only for many of the attendees and sending the planned agenda on the fritz.

“I just wanted to get through it without disaster,” Lieberman said. “We had planned a little parade of the Torah in the parking lot and were going to hang the last mezuzah (a decorative piece of parchment inscribed with specified Hebrew Torah verses) on the door, but there was such a huge mob, there was no way we could get them out in the parking lot.”

Since the celebratory dedication, the Temple has fallen into a steady flow and schedule. Lieberman said he can identify three communities within the congregation- the summer visitors, year-round participants and Appalachian students. Each group contributes to the Temple’s growth and maintenance in their own way.

The summer crowd, mostly visitors from Florida, makes up the majority of membership. Twice this summer, Rabbis from these visitors’ congregations hosted guest services at the temple. Lieberman says these services drew some “big crowds.”

The Temple has also hired Peter Cohen, a Doctor of Religion at Clemson University, to host Saturday morning services once a month. The draw for these sessions is comparable in size.

Luckily, the Temple is equipped with removable partitions that allow the worship room to double in size when necessary. With larger crowds, the partitions have been down all summer, but when fall returns, Lieberman says they will go back up, to create a more intimate sanctuary.

The year-round members are a smaller demographic, but represent the majority of the Board of Directors and do the majority of work involving the maintenance of the Temple. These people will enjoy a more secluded temple come summer’s end, which brings about mixed emotions.

“We miss them all,” Lieberman said of their Temple-goers, “But we enjoy the intimacy of our smaller, strictly local congregation.”

Within the year-round group lies the most opportunity for expansion. Lieberman has also begun to have Thursday morning prayer services with his wife, a practice he soon hopes to share with all interested. He also has a plan for a Hebrew for Gentiles class, a workshop of “The Living Talmud: The Wisdom of the Fathers,” a Jewish philosophy text and even a Scrabble club to go along the already active Mahjong club.

“The Sisterhood” is another life-blood of the Temple. On High Holy Days, food is a major part of the service, and when attendance doubles, or even triples, there are many hungry mouths to feed. One of the many services this group provides is the food preparation for such celebrations.

“Everyone contributes to our little community in their own way,” Lieberman says.

And a little community it is.

The Schaefer Center is named in honor of Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer, who donated $1 million for the Temple’s construction.

“The community never envisioned this Temple, myself included,” Lieberman said. “The Schaefer’s envisioned all of this. This place wouldn’t be here without them.”

Aside from monetary donations, the Schaefer’s also designed the building. This provided relief from hiring an architect and potential squabbling among board members over trivial matters like carpet color, Lieberman said.

The result was a technologically up-to-date, historical temple that has plenty of interesting facets other than removable partitions.

A highlight of the building is the Yahrtzeit Wall. Many temples are adorned with a Yahrtzeit, where donors can have the name of a deceased love one memorialized. A light next to the name will glow during the week of the person’s death, but these lights are often are human-maintained. The Schaefer Temple’s Yahrtzeit is computerized and comes to light without human assistance. Synagogues nationwide have contacted the Temple inquiring about the wall’s status.

The Aran Kodesh, or ark, lies on the pulpit and houses two Torahs (one of which is currently on loan to the ASU Holocaust Symposium) and ceremonial robes.

 Hanging above the pulpit is an electric Eternal Light, which glows 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the back of the worship hall a cabinet houses an oil Eternal Light, donated by a family whose grandparents kept the ner tamid from Nazi hands during World War II.

Behind the pulpit are beautiful stain glass windows adorned with the Ten Commandments. Plaques dedicated to donors line the wall above the window.

The Schaefer’s generous donation has left no debt on the hands of the Temple maintainers. There is still some fine-tuning going on, with work being done by local contractors the Miters Touch.

With less than 20 families committed to maintaining the Temple year-round, Lieberman admits he is a little anxious about upholding such a holy building. But after bouncing from church to church for over three decades, the relief of finally having a secured, house of worship outweighs any nerves- by a long shot.