It is also almost the end of the congregation's first year in the renovated synagogue, a $5.5 million project that modernized the ancient mechanical systems and restored the mosaic-covered interior to its original opulence.
"There is no question that more and more of our new members are from Center City," said Rabbi William Kuhn, leader of the Reform congregation. "All of our growth has been coming from Center City."
According to a study, about half the congregation's 1,000 "family units" are from Center City and surrounding neighborhoods, 380 from Elkins Park and Abington, and the rest from the edges of the city or across the line in other parts of Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware Counties.
Regardless of demographics, the decision was not an easy one. For many, especially those aging members who mostly worshiped at the Suburban Center, the logistics of getting to the Broad Street building were upsetting.
But a strategic plan to predict Rodeph Shalom's future through 2010 showed that consolidation was crucial to conserve resources, and that the Suburban Center was not an option.
Many members whose move north justified the Suburban Center had died, and their children had moved farther away. Following them again would mean leaving the city for areas already served by Reform congregations, Kuhn said.
And so, with shuttle buses for some and alternative services at Gratz College in Melrose Park for others, Rodeph Shalom returned to its original home.
"We're very excited about what's happening in Center City," Kuhn said.
From Europe to Broad
Had Rodeph Shalom moved, it would have broken a link to Philadelphia dating to 1795, when a small group of Jews from Germany, the Netherlands and Poland established a minyan, a quorum required to worship.
Philadelphia then already had an established Jewish congregation, Mikveh Israel, founded in 1740. But Mikveh Israel was a Sephardic congregation, descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews driven from the Iberian peninsula in 1492.
The Ashkenazis spoke German or Yiddish, and had different traditions and pronunciations of many Hebrew words.
Rodeph Shalom shuttled from one home to another until the mid-19th century, when a wave of German immigration swelled the numbers.
In 1868, Rodeph Shalom bought two lots at Broad and Mount Vernon Streets for $41,113 and hired a 28-year-old architect named Frank Furness to design its new home.
The beginning of the end for Furness' building came in 1925 as Rodeph Shalom searched - with much difficulty - for a new senior rabbi.
The board finally found a "seasoned" rabbi in Cleveland who was willing to come to Philadelphia. But Rabbi Louis Wolsey had some conditions, including a new synagogue and school.
After weighing a move to 16th Street and Allegheny Avenue, the congregation opted to stay on Broad Street. The new building cost $1.5 million and was designed by Simon & Simon, with the sanctuary and stained glass by the famed D'Ascenzo Studio in Philadelphia.
In 2004, Rodeph Shalom's leaders decided to sell the Suburban Center in Elkins Park and focus all their energy - and resources - on the Indiana limestone building on North Broad.
Plenty of both were needed for a building that had never had a major overhaul.
"Just the sheer scale of the space was daunting," said Philadelphia restoration architect Martin Jay Rosenblum, who managed the renovations with Dick Winston of Becker Winston Architects.
It took a month to erect scaffolds to enable restorers to get near the interior of the dome over the sanctuary, 65 feet in diameter and 65 feet high at the skylight, Rosenblum said.
Roof drains with downspouts ran between the interior and exterior walls, and leaks had to be plugged before interior damage could be repaired.
And there was asbestos, lots of it. Typical of public buildings of its age, the interior walls were covered with an "asbestos fabric" for fireproofing, virtually every square inch of it painted and hand-stenciled. With the air monitored, Rosenblum said, areas of the fabric that were flaking because of water damage were coated, sealed, and fixed to the ceiling.
The skylight, which had been in danger of falling, was removed and restored, Rosenblum said, and unfaded carpeting was removed from under pews in the balcony and sent to a firm in England to be matched.
Workers were still moving through the building Oct. 1 when Rodeph Shalom had a dress rehearsal with the bar mitzvah of Daniel Ceisler.
"It really was a dry run," said Daniel's father, Larry, a Center City public-relations consultant. "The sound engineers were testing the system. . . . But it really was special, being the first ones in that beautiful space."
Rosenblum called the job "the high point of my career," and Rodeph Shalom has since won four awards from architectural and preservation groups.
Rodeph Shalom's president, Susan Klehr, said she looked forward to the building's continuing its tradition as a community meeting place and its new role in the expansion of the Avenue of the Arts.
A 22-year member and a member of the restoration committee, Klehr said she was still a "newcomer" in a congregation that includes the seventh generation of the Fleischer family.
"Whatever we did, we just did not want to do any damage," Klehr added. "We had received a gift. Now I think we have a gift to impart to our children."
Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or email@example.com.