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Congregation Beth Israel (Worcester, Massachusetts)

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Beth Israel
Basic information
Location 15 Jamesbury Drive,
Worcester, Massachusetts,
Template:Flag
Geographic coordinates 42°16′59″N 71°49′41″W / 42.283111°N 71.828077°W / 42.283111; -71.828077Coordinates: 42°16′59″N 71°49′41″W / 42.283111°N 71.828077°W / 42.283111; -71.828077
Affiliation Conservative Judaism
Status Active
Leadership Rabbi: Joel Pitkowsky[1]
Cantor: Marina Shemesh[2]
Website www.bethisraelworc.org/
Architectural description
Groundbreaking 1958[3]
Year completed 1959[4]
Construction cost $735,000[3]

Congregation Beth Israel (Hebrew: בית ישראל‎) is an egalitarian Conservative congregation located at 15 Jamesbury Drive in Worcester, Massachusetts.[5] Founded in 1924 as an Orthodox synagogue, it is the "leading Conservative congregation in Central Massachusetts."[6]

The congregation constructed its first building, on Pleasant Street, in 1939, at a cost of $42,000.[3][4][7] After World War II the congregation grew rapidly, from 242 member families in 1945, to 451 in 1953.[3]

Herbert Ribner served as rabbi from 1948 to 1955, and was followed by Abraham Kazis in 1955.[7] In 1957, Beth Israel was the second largest of Worcester's eleven Jewish congregations, with 532 member families; the largest, the Reform Temple Emanuel, had 1,340 member families (42 families were members of both).[8]

Beth Israel purchased 13 acres (5.3 ha) of land on Jamesbury drive for $42,000, and began construction of their current building on it in 1958. Completed in 1959, the building cost $735,000, of which over $300,000 was mortgaged. The mortgage was retired in 15 years.[3][4][7]

Kazis was succeeded as congregational rabbi by Baruch Goldstein in 1971. A native of Mława (then in East Prussia), Goldstein had been sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942. His entire family perished in the Holocaust, but he survived and emigrated to the United States, where he became a rabbi.[3][9][10] He was succeeded by Jay Rosenbaum in 1986.[11]

In the early 1990s, the congregation still numbered around 530 member families.[12] In 1994, the synagogue and Rosenbaum were the subject of the book And They Shall be My People: An American Rabbi and His Congregation, the observations of Paul Wilkes, who had spent two and a half years with Rosenbaum and the congregation.[13]

During that period, the synagogue operated with annual budget deficit, which had risen to $210,000. The board of directors raised annual dues from $650 to $950, but membership fell to 499 member families, and Wilkes was concerned that Rosenbaum's job was threatened. By 1995, however, the deficit had been eliminated, and Rosenbaum was signed to a new three-year contract.[12][14][15]

Rosenbaum joined Herzl-Ner Tamid Congregation in Mercer Island, Washington as their senior rabbi,[16] and Joel Pitkowsky succeeded him at Beth Israel in 2003.[1] Marina Shemesh joined as cantor in 2004.[2]

Notes

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