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History of Beth El
The History of Beth El
The story of Beth El starts from its initial organizational meeting on June 28, 1946. Twenty families attended, each pledging $100 per family to finance a High Holiday service in September. Over the next few months, a name was selected, committees were formed, membership drive details were finalized and the group invited everyone who wished to worship with them for the High Holidays. Imagine their joy and satisfaction that first Rosh Hashanah eve when 250 worshippers came through the doors of their first home, the Masonic Hall Auditorium.
In 1949, Beth El established its first permanent home on Kilburn Place. The original building housed an auditorium, library and nursery school. Through the dedicated efforts of many early members, funds were raised to build a new sanctuary and chapel that would border Irvington Avenue. The new addition, completed in 1958, was heralded in a New York Times article for displaying the "richness of expression" characteristic of the new trend in contemporary synagogue architecture.
In 1991, Beth El completed an extensive renovation to ensure our presence in the community well into the 21st Century. The project included construction of a new wing with offices for the clergy, a library and a media room for the nursery school. The school wing was renovated, providing enlarged classroom and program space for preschool and religious school students.
A House of Study
Securing quality Jewish education was a priority for Beth El from the beginning. The Beth El Preschool was founded when the synagogue established its permanent home in 1949. Sixty years later, preschool enrollment is over 100 students with year round programming for toddlers through Kindergartners. In 2007, the Beth El Preschool changed its name to the Thelma K. Reisman Preschool of Beth El.
In 2007, the congregation formed Beth El's Jewish Learning Center for children in kindergarten through high school, where students engage in active, experiential learning that will also have practical application to their lives.
A Dynamic Egalitarian Conservative Synagogue
For over sixty years, Congregation Beth El has maintained a philosophy of providing leadership and resources for the Jewish and secular communities. Beth El was the driving force in the creation of the annual South Orange-Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Memorial Service, now in its 32nd year. Beth El’s vigorous support of the Jewish community includes important affiliations such as hosting USY and Young Judaea events; supporting the Food Pantry of the Oranges; and the fulfillment of our commitments to Israel, to the Conservative movement and to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
For six decades the needs and talents of our membership and clergy have combined to create a satisfying year round hub of Jewish life for the families of our congregation. Our varied activities encompass award-winning children's Shabbat services, stimulating adult education programs, an energetic Sisterhood and Men's Club, a commitment to social action, meaningful and engaging worship of Shabbat, the holidays and festivals, and a full calendar of musical, cultural and educational events.
In June 2006, Beth El marked its 60th anniversary with a special commemorative weekend honoring many of our founding members. In the words of founding member Jennie Beck, "we cherish the memory of the wonderful people whose wisdom, dedication, inspiration and guidance have brought us to this day."