By Brandon Goldner

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) — Two Cherry Hill synagogues, with histories spanning five generations, will merge as one congregation this summer in what’s believed to be a historic first for the South Jersey Jewish community.

On July 1, Temple Emanuel and M’kor Shalom will officially become Kol Ami, Hebrew for “Voice of my People,” based at Temple Emanuel’s facility.

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Drew Molotsky, M’kor Shalom’s president, said the process began 16 months ago as both synagogues were considering their futures.

“This has been a tremendous amount of work unifying these congregations,” Molotsky said. “The energy and enthusiasm coming from both congregations has made it a real labor of love.”

Dr. David Chasen, Temple Emanuel’s president, said at the time, that they were looking for a new senior rabbi.

“Creating something new, something stronger that will last for generations,” Dr. Chasen said. “[It] will be wonderful.”

Both synagogues practice Reform Judaism, which is a more liberal teaching of the religion’s traditions.

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Across the country, many Reform synagogues expressed alarm about declining membership numbers.

A 2021 Yale study predicted the number of American Jews, aged 30- to 69-years-old, who identify with either Reform or Conservative Judaism, is expected to drop by 46% in the next 50 years.

Both Molotsky and Chasen insisted this new, combined synagogue wasn’t created out of desperation.

“That’s what makes this so compelling and so strong for both congregations,” Molotsky said. “It is a true unification of two existing solidly producing and serving communities.”

Both synagogues’ rabbis and cantors will be retained. Coincidentally, they use the same prayer book for Shabbat services.

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“This has been a process. It’s been fun. It’s been exciting. Occasionally, there’s some other adjectives,” Chasen said. “But, it’s been a good time.”

Brandon Goldner