Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Congregation B’nai Israel celebrates 150th anniversary

Events planned between now, Dec. 3 give nod to the past

  • synagogue-9-10

    B’nai Israel, Toledo’s first synagogue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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  • The-exterior-9-10

    The exterior of B’nai Israel’s former temple at 2146 Bancroft St. is home to the True Church of God.

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  • B-nai-Israel-9-10

    B’nai Israel, Toledo’s first synagogue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Buy This Image

  • National-Register-9-10

    B’nai Israel, Toledo’s first synagogue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Buy This Image

  • Historic-Places-9-10

    B’nai Israel, Toledo’s first synagogue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Buy This Image

Congregation B’nai Israel, 6525 W. Sylvania Ave., Sylvania, is celebrating its 150th anniversary with several events happening between Friday and Dec. 3. Some will be for the congregation, others for the larger Jewish community and the public.

“It’s a yearlong project, but it started two years ago,” said Hazzan Ivor Lichterman, Congregation B’nai Israel’s cantor and clergy leader. He praised the work of the three 150th anniversary co-chairmen, Fagie Benstein, Cathy Sperling, and Sharon Stein, who took over office space, built archives, and conducted oral histories of longtime members. “The three of them, with over 100 volunteers, are incredible,” the Hazzan said.

From Friday through Sept. 18, the committee put together five events for the congregation’s focus, closed to the public because of space limitations, including a Friday Shabbat-welcoming service after a 5:30 p.m. musical welcome. The congregation’s Ruach Chorus, after several years without a choir at B’nai Israel, will make its debut. The Shabbat service, which will be led by Hazzan Lichterman, along with former B’nai Israel Rabbi Michael Ungar and Rabbi Daniel Stein (Ms. Stein’s son), will be followed by a congregation dinner.

The Sept. 17 events begin with a 9:30 a.m. Shabbat service in which the “Megillah Shel Kahilat B’nai Israel” will be dedicated and member families who can trace their congregation presence to 1913 will deliver lines from a 100th-anniversary cantata written by Doris Goldberg, the wife of influential Rabbi Morton Goldberg. There will be other prayers at 6:30 p.m. and an 8 p.m. “Havdalah Under the Stars” and reunion party for previous B’nai Israel people.

For the morning Megillah, rather than just updating the congregation's history, it was turned into a traditional story to be read aloud.

There is much to tell in B’nai Israel’s story. Toledo’s first synagogue was originally Orthodox, then made a slow but conscious transition beginning in 1937 to move toward Conservative Judaism by taking such actions as electing a new rabbi, Rabbi Goldberg, letting women and men sit side by side rather than relegating women to the balcony, putting girls into Hebrew School, encouraging men to wear yarmulkes instead of top hats, and instituting a common prayer book.

“We still have people in the congregation to this very day who remember sitting upstairs in the women's gallery with Rabbi Goldberg [leading] as he slowly transitioned. The earth didn’t open up when we came down,” Ms. Benstein said.

“We have minutes from the mid-30s where they’re discussing transitioning and what it would look like,” Ms. Sperling said.

The 12th Street Shul will be the highlight of the opening weekend’s conclusion, with a noon trip scheduled Sept. 18. A capacity ridership of 110 people will board buses and the B'nai Israelites will leave their synagogue at 6525 Sylvania Ave., Sylvania, where they have been since 2007, to visit their dead at two cemeteries. Then they will travel back a few years in their history with a visit to the True Church of God of the Apostolic Faith, 2146 N 12th St., at Bancroft Street, their former 12th Street Shul.

The Rev. Daniel F. Day, a bishop, is the pastor of the True Church of God of the Apostolic Faith. He said it’s an important building for his flock now. They bought the building in 1964, from another Christian congregation, he said, “so we’ve been here 50-plus years ourselves. We have a lot of memories here, also. A lot of weddings and funerals; just special days and worships and events, so it's dear to us, also. For a lot of our children, this is the only place they've ever known, 12th and Bancroft.”

“When you walk into Bancroft, it’s grand,” said Hazzan Ivor Lichterman, Congregation B'nai Israel's cantor and clergy leader. “It still is grand. The stained glass is grand. The congregation that is active there today is grand.”

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and “it has a lot of issues,” Pastor Day said. “It is quite a task trying to stay on top of everything, and some things we’re on top of, some things we’re not, but we try to keep the integrity of the building. … As I say, it’s a place we hold very dear to ourselves, and we can appreciate that congregation’s desire to at least come back into the building because I’m sure they’ve got a lot of memories also.”

“We still have some families members that had life cycle events there that remember,” Ms. Benstein said.

The original stained glass windows are still there, Mrs. Stein said, “and they're still in wonderful condition. They’ve taken really, really good care of the building over the last 50 years.”

“I was glad when Cathy [Sperling] reached out to us and told us they wanted to look at the place,” Pastor Day said. “I know they had times when they didn’t use to come through, but I think she wanted to have a real good showing for their congregation because a lot of their older members yet remember it, and some of the children, I guess. So I think it's a wonderful thing, and we’re glad to do it, [to be] a part of that celebration with them.”

A public event on Dec. 3 will have actor/​musical artist/​Cantor Andrea Rae Markowicz, who grew up in the congregation, and former B’nai Israel Cantor Jamie Gloth, along with Hazzan Lichterman, performing something for everybody, Hazzan said.

“For example, Cantor Markowicz, she’s great at opera and Broadway, so I'm sure she’s going to do opera and Broadway. I’m going to do some comedy — musical comedy, believe it or not.” He added, “There will be some costumes. It's going to be fun.”

“B'nai Israel’s going to be the only place to be that night, I can tell you,” Ms. Benstein said.

Contact TK Barger at, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.

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