Beth Israel

The creation of a second congregation in Kingston posed problems initially for the Beth Israel synagogue community. It was felt that members might be drawn away from their shul and that divisive tensions within Beth Israel would be heightened. Although feelings remained raw for a number of years, there were always a few who understood and loved both groups. In fact, many Jewish residents have held Beth Israel’s Hebrew school in such high regard that they have taken out memberships to both synagogues. Thanks to dignified leadership on both sides, old rifts healed and mutual respect prevailed.

Through the latter decades of the 20th century, under the leadership of Rabbi Howard Finkelstein and then Rabbi Daniel Elkin, Beth Israel has settled into its role under the latter leader, as a Modern Orthodox congregation serving a diverse membership. The congregation has continued to grow through a balance of tradition and change. In 1982, Merle Koven broke new ground when she became president of Beth Israel, possibly the first woman president of an Orthodox synagogue in North America. In the early 1980s, the idea of building a mikvah was debated. Although some community members felt it an anachronism, the majority was in favour of the mikvah and it was completed in 1987. In 1984, the membership voted to build a flexible addition to the synagogue, a multi-purpose space that would serve as sanctuary, lecture hall, class room, meeting room and extension to their social hall. This addition was constructed, thanks to a gift from the Samuel S. Robinson Charitable Foundation.

An important benchmark for Beth Israel was the occasion of their 75th anniversary held in 1985. The anniversary was an opportunity for the congregation to revisit their history and look to the future. In honour of the occasion, the Sisterhood under then-president Susan Morris, undertook the ambitious project of creating a large tapestry. This magnificent piece, symbolizing Jerusalem, Shabbat, the shofar, Torah and the Ten Commandments, was designed by an artist and lovingly stitched in needlepoint by the ladies themselves, one square at a time. Another major project in honour of the anniversary was the book the congregation produced. Entitled “From Strength to Strength—Beth Israel Congregation,” this large format volume includes extensive information on family histories, archival photographs and picture collages, and articles on many aspects of the congregation’s life and history.

In 2008, the congregation began gearing up for its next milestone, the 100th anniversary of Beth Israel, to be celebrated in 2010. The grand launch of centenary celebrations are scheduled for Simchat Torah, in the fall of 2009.