Pinehurst: Historical Overview
In 1895, James Walker Tufts, the wealthy head of the American Soda Fountain Company, bought 600 acres of land as part of a plan to build a health resort in the secluded, rural area of Moore County known as the Sandhills. The area had been largely skipped over in the economic development of the state because of its isolation and lack of useful soil. Tufts built the Village of Pinehurst, modeled after the villages of his native New England, as a winter resort. In 1900, Tufts hired Donald Ross to design golf courses for the resort. Ever since, the Pinehurst area has been a mecca for golfers. By 2009, Moore County had 40 golf courses. For a long time, the community was closed to Jews and other minorities, but in recent decades, a growing number of Jews have moved to the area and set down roots among the golf courses and planned developments of Pinehurst.
Celebrating our 10th Anniversary. L-R Vivian Jacobson, Lowell Simon, Rabbi Herman, Rabbi Brickman, Mindy Fineman and Bernie Rosenblum
Early Jewish Residents
In the 1950s, a few Jewish families moved to Southern Pines, a small town east of Pinehurst Village. By the 1970s, Jewish retirees began to settle in the Pinehurst area. In 1981, they created the Sandhills Jewish Cultural Group, which sponsored various social and cultural events. Later, a handful of Jewish families moved to the area, several of whom were doctors hired by the regional medical center. As Pinehurst grew as a tourist and retirement destination, a growing number of Jewish professionals and business people moved to the area. Concerned about passing down their Judaism to their children, this new group established the Sandhills Jewish Organization in the 1990s, which held regular services and had a religious school. While Jewish youth education was the top priority for this new group, the retirees did not need the same services and initially had little interest in a formal congregation.
A Congregation Forms
Finally, in 1999, Vivian Jacobson helped to unite the two groups and formally establish the Sandhills Jewish Congregation. Lowell Simon, a native New Yorker who had also helped broker the merger, lead the group toward the establishment of a Temple. He was elected president of the new congregation, a position he held for the next ten years. For their first High Holidays, members led the services. For the next few years, the congregation hired student rabbis and retired rabbis to lead services. While most of the larger Pinehurst community had little experience with Jews, the Sandhills Jewish Congregation found a warm welcome from their Gentile neighbors. Several churches offered to loan their sanctuaries to the new congregation. They even allowed the Sandhills congregation to cover the displayed crosses with a decorated sheet during services.
In 2001, the fledgling congregation decided to build a synagogue. After purchasing three acres in Foxfire Village, the congregation dedicated its new building, Beth Shalom, in 2002. Although members come from diverse Jewish backgrounds, the congregation decided to affiliate with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). The congregation received a Torah from the Jewish congregation in Whiteville, North Carolina, which was declining and did not need the extra scroll.
In 2003, the congregation hired retired Rabbi Floyd Herman to be their regular visiting spiritual leader. Rabbi Herman served the congregation for eight years. His tenure was followed by Rabbi Kenneth Brickman in 2011. Once a month and on the High Holidays, Rabbi Brickman travels to Pinehurst to lead services.
Following his tenure as Temple President, Lowell Simon stepped down to take an advisory role on the Temple board as President Emeritus. Mindy Fineman then served as Temple President for 3 years, followed by Bernie Rosenblum, who has been Temple President for 6 years and continues to serve as President.
In 2014, in an effort to improve the religious school program, the congregation joined the Institute for Southern Jewish Life (ISJL.) This affiliation provided the congregation with a curriculum that could easily be used by the volunteer teachers and provide lesson plans and direction for the educational program. ISJL also provided a community fellow to visit with the congregation to assist with programming and educational guidance.
The Congregation Today
Today, in 2017, the congregation has grown to over 100 member households, consisting of about 160 adults. Most of the members are not native North Carolinians; many came from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida. A handful of military families stationed at nearby Fort Bragg belong to the congregation. More Jews have been relocating to the Pinehurst area and in recent years there has been growth in the congregation. While a majority of the adults are retirees, the congregation maintains an active lay-led religious school with about 25 children. From 2003 to 2017 there have been 24 Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, and 3 group adult B’not Mitzvah celebrations. In 2016, the congregation held a Bar Mitzvah celebration in honor of the 13th year since Beth Shalom opened its doors. It is clear that the Sandhills Jewish Congregation has established a permanent Jewish presence in Pinehurst.