Two Conservative synagogues with nearly 260 years of history between them could begin to share quarters in Brookline as soon as June.

Congregation Mishkan Tefila, which is selling its Newton building and 24 acres to Boston College, is set to move to the 1.3-acre campus of Congregation Kehillath Israel.

But first two-thirds of Mishkan Tefila’s 200 member families must approve a bylaw change allowing the congregation to move out of Newton. The vote is slated for May 4.

“We were an institution before the Civil War. We’ve been a very powerful organization in the past,” said Paul Gershkowitz, Mishkan Tefila’s president. “And now we need to re-create what Mishkan Tefila is going to be into this century.”


In a joint meeting Wednesday, Mishkan Tefila’s board of directors and board of trustees endorsed the plan by a 4-1 margin. The board of Kehillath Israel unanimously backed it Thursday.

Both congregations would retain their separate identities, budgets, and clerical and lay leadership.

Founded in 1858, Mishkan Tefila built the first synagogue in Boston. The congregation moved to Hammond Pond Parkway in 1958, where its membership peaked at 1,000 families in the late 1970s.

Kehillath Israel, which celebrates its centenary next year, has just over 400 families.

The arrival of Mishkan Tefila would be a milestone in Kehillath Israel’s transformation into an urban Jewish community center. Already some 30 Jewish organizations are based there, ranging from three independent prayer communities (known as minyanim) to Hebrew immersion programs to a variety of social and welfare organizations.

Kehillath Israel’s other major partners at its Coolidge Corner campus are Combined Jewish Philanthropies, which aims to promote programs for young adults, and Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, which plans to build apartments.

Mishkan Tefila previously had considered the campus concept in conjunction with the Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton. But the congregation, whose membership has fallen sharply in recent years, couldn’t take the risk. “Schechter was more a dream, as opposed to Kehillath Israel, which is more a reality,” said Gershkowitz.


Moving to Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill was ruled out because the congregation would have lost its identity as Mishkan Tefila. Gershkowitz said he was impressed that Kehillath Israel’s leaders said, “We are not looking to merge with you. . . . We want your uniqueness in the campus.”

Kehillath Israel’s senior rabbi, William Hamilton, said that his congregation is on the traditional end of the Conservative movement, conducting longer services with more Hebrew. By contrast, he said, Mishkan Tefila “represents the heart and soul of today’s Conservative Judaism as it is practiced pretty much across North America.”

The congregations would likely share a preschool and religious school, as well as daily minyan services. They would also pool resources to expand programming for teens. Among other things, Mishkan Tefila would bring a strong speaker series; musical programming; and vigorous auxiliaries.

Since Kehillath Israel holds its main Sabbath services on Saturday mornings, Mishkan Tefila sees an opportunity to attract people with its energetic, musical Friday night services. Only one member of Mishkan Tefila’s clergy, Rabbi Marcia Plumb, will be making the move to Brookline.

Kehillath Israel is in the midst of a $15 million renovation and building project. Plans would be revised to accommodate Mishkan Tefila.

Kehillath Israel has already raised $10 million for the project. Mishkan Tefila, which will realize $20 million from the property sale, intends to contribute. Work is expected to begin next spring.


Gershkowitz expressed confidence that his congregation would endorse the move. “We’re not even planning for the possibility” it will be rejected.

He acknowledged that while it would be easier to remain in Newton, the congregation would probably not survive there more than another five or 10 years. “At Kehillath Israel, we’re going to be laser focused on what we need to do in order to succeed.”

Congregation Mishkan Tefila is selling its Newton building and 24 acres to Boston College.
Congregation Mishkan Tefila is selling its Newton building and 24 acres to Boston College.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Steve Maas can be reached at stevenmaas@comcast.net.