Congregation B'nai Israel (Sacramento, California)

Congregation B'nai Israel (Hebrew: בני ישראל) is a Reform Jewish congregation and synagogue, located at 3600 Riverside Boulevard, in Sacramento, California, in the United States. Founded in 1852 as an Orthodox community, the congregation is the oldest Jewish congregation in Sacramento. The congregation dates the California Gold Rush of 1849, when Jewish settlers gathered to observe the High Holy days. The congregation purchased its first building at 7th and L streets on September 2, 1852, making it the first synagogue west of the Mississippi River.[1]

Congregation B'nai Israel
Hebrew: בני ישראל
AffiliationReform Judaism
Ecclesiastical or organisational statusSynagogue
LeadershipRabbi Mona Alfi
Location3600 Riverside Boulevard, Sacramento, California
CountryUnited States
Congregation B'nai Israel (Sacramento, California) is located in California
Congregation B'nai Israel (Sacramento, California)
Location in California
Geographic coordinates38°32′49″N 121°30′30″W / 38.5470°N 121.5082°W / 38.5470; -121.5082
TypeSynagogue architecture
Date established1852 (as a congregation)
  • 1852 (7th and L Streets #1)
  • 1858 (7th and L Streets #2)
  • 1865 (6th Street)
  • 1904 (Fifteenth Street #1)
  • 1912 (Fifteenth Street #2)
  • 1954 (Riverside Boulevard)
Plaque of Congregation B'nai Israel located at 7th and Capitol Light Rail Station, Sacramento.[1]

History edit

The congregation has survived the destruction caused by fires and floods throughout its history. In November 1852, fire destroyed its original location at 7th and L streets, and it met in congregants' homes until 1858. A Methodist congregation had constructed a building on their former lot during this time, and in 1858 B'nai Israel purchased this new building. Three years later, it too was destroyed by fire. In 1864, the congregation purchased a former Presbyterian concert hall on 6th Street for use as their synagogue.

In 1904, the congregation moved to 1421 Fifteenth Street, which also caught fire in 1912, and reopened after a year of renovations. This location was home to B'nai Israel until 1954, when the congregation moved to its current location at 3600 Riverside Boulevard. Through the next few decades, the campus expanded to include the Harry M. Tonkin Memorial Chapel, the Sosnick Library, and the Buddy Kandel education wing.[1]

Congregation B'nai Israel owned the first Jewish cemetery in California, the Chevra Kaddisha Cemetery, Sacramento (active from 1850 until c. 1924).[2][3] They were also active with the formation of the Home of Peace Cemetery in 1924, a successor to Chevra Kaddisha.[4][5]

Roots of other synagogues edit

Between 1858 and 1861, a splinter group, calling itself B'nai Ha'Shalom had formed due to differences of opinion. The groups reunited in 1861 following floods that damaged the Bet Shalom cemetery. In 1879, the congregation turned from Orthodoxy to Reform, affiliating with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1885. The more Orthodox members left to form Sacramento's Mosaic Law Synagogue. In 1970, members left the congregation to form Temple Beth Shalom in protest to the firing of the congregation's cantor.[1]

1999 arson attack edit

On June 18, 1999, B'nai Israel was one of three Sacramento synagogues (also including Temple Beth Shalom and Knesset Israel Torah Center) that were set ablaze by white supremacist brothers Matthew and Tyler Williams. The attacks caused damage of more than $1 million,[6] with B'nai Israel alone sustaining over $800,000 in damage to its sanctuary and its library, which was destroyed.[7][8]

Undeterred, the congregation met at the Sacramento community center that same evening for Shabbat services, and days later held a rally that drew over 5,000 people from the larger community.[9] The arsonists subsequently murdered a gay couple, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, in Redding, California.[6] The attack was the second time that the congregation had been the target of a hate crime: the synagogue was firebombed by a 17-year-old white supremacist in 1993.[7]

Rabbinical leaders edit

The following individuals have served as rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel:

Ordinal Officeholder Term start Term end Time in office Notes
1 Joseph Leonard Levy 1889 1893 3–4 years [10]
2 Abram Simon 1894 1899 4–5 years [11]
?? Lester Frazini 1974 1995 20–21 years [1]
?? Brad Bloom 1995 2006 11–12 years [12]
?? Shoshanah King-Tornberg
?? Mona Alfi incumbent

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e "History". Congregation B'nai Israel. Archived from the original on September 2, 2012.[self-published source?]
  2. ^ "Chevra Kaddisha (Home of Peace Cemetery) Historical Landmark". State of California, Office of Historic Preservation.
  3. ^ Adler, Cyrus; Szold, Henrietta (1919). American Jewish Year Book. Jewish Publication Society of America. p. 344.
  4. ^ "Ill-suited Neighbors, Cemetery Owners Not Pleased with Adjoining Junkyard". The Sacramento Bee. June 12, 1987. p. 1. ISSN 0890-5738. Retrieved January 8, 2023.
  5. ^ "Jews to Dedicated New Burial Ground". The Sacramento Bee. November 25, 1925. p. 14. ISSN 0890-5738. Retrieved January 8, 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Man Says He Set Fires at Synagogues" New York Times January 9, 2000
  7. ^ a b Purdum, Todd S. (June 19, 1999). "Apparently Coordinated Fires Hit 3 California Synagogues". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Ellis, Virginia; Gladstone, Mark (June 19, 1999). "Arson Hits 3 Synagogues in Sacramento Area". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ "Not in Our Town: Citizens Respond to Hate: Sacramento". PBS.
  10. ^ Adler, Cyrus and Dobsevage, I. George, "Levy, Joseph Leonard", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1903
  11. ^ Olitzky, Kerry M.; Sussman, Lance J.; Stern, Malcolm H., eds. (1993). Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Westport, C.T.: Greenwood Press. pp. 194–195. ISBN 978-0-313-24628-9 – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ "Our Staff Archived 2010-12-11 at the Wayback Machine" Congregation Beth Yam

Official website edit