By Cindy Mindell
WOODBURY – As the first Byzantine-style synagogue in Connecticut, Beth El Synagogue made headlines when it opened its new building on Cooke Street in Waterbury in 1951. Originally founded as the Waterbury Modern Orthodox Congregation 30 years earlier, the synagogue had changed its name to Beth El in 1924, when it moved into its first location on Park Place.
With Jewish migration to the suburbs over the second half of the 20th century, Beth El’s numbers had dwindled to fewer than 100 by 2001, when the Cooke Street building went up for sale. An offer came in from the decade-old Torah Umesorah yeshiva community, which took over the synagogue and religious-school building. With so few members, Beth El moved to rented space on the Walzer Family Jewish Community Campus in Southbury, which also houses the building’s co-owners, Jewish Federation of Western CT and B’nai Israel of Southbury. But the space eventually proved inadequate, and the congregation has been renting space at a local school for many events.
Now Beth El is relocating again to better serve its growing numbers.
“We have simply outgrown our current location,” says congregant Shelley Albini, who is coordinating the move. “We need more space to accommodate more programs for our increasing membership, the community, and our growing school.”
The synagogue’s handicap-accessible new home is at 124 South Pomperaug Road in Woodbury, five miles north, a building that offers sufficient space for services and holiday celebrations, events, new programming, and classrooms, as well as an outdoor garden to benefit the Woodbury Food Pantry. The congregation received many ritual objects from Kol Ami in Cheshire, which closed its doors last month.
The shul’s CHAI Center for Jewish Life and Learning – an acronym reflecting the school’s philosophy of Creative, Holistic, Alternative and Intergenerational education – offers a full calendar of youth- and adult-education opportunities.
Led by Rabbi Eliana Falk and Cantor Sharon Citrin, the Beth El congregation numbers approximately 100, in addition to associate members, teens, and children. Membership has doubled in size over the past few years, says president Susan Sieber, evolving from an aged congregation to a strong, dedicated spiritual home with members ranging in age from 3 to 90-plus, and hailing from communities around Greater Waterbury and into northern Fairfield County.
“With our expanded space, freedom to grow, and bright vision for our future, we have even more energy to give to our members and community,” says Falk.
Beth El Synagogue will hold its first services in the new location on Friday, July 18 at 7 p.m., when the congregation will carry its Torah scrolls into the sanctuary. A “Chanukat Habayit” (dedication ceremony) is planned for Sunday, July 20 at 1 p.m.
The congregation will host an open house BBQ for current and prospective members on Sunday, August 3. The 60th Annual Cantor’s Concert is scheduled for Nov. 16.
For information visit www.bethelsyn.org or call (203) 264-4500.