Beth Jacob

Beginning in the 1960s when the congregation moved to their new building, tension began to mount. There was disagreement between Rabbi Rosensweig, members of the Executive, and community members, about making changes to shul services that would shift it towards Conservative practice. Over time, concessions were made to satisfy the desires of the congregation’s more liberal members. Partial mixed seating was introduced for services other than Shabbat. In 1978, the first women’s service, a “Sisterhood Shabbat,” was held. By the 1990s, Rabbi Levy was allowing women to hold their own service and have an aliyah in a room adjoining the shul sanctuary.

The small size of the Kitchener community meant that its members had many opportunities to be leaders. There were several men who dedicated their time to serving multiple terms as president of Beth Jacob. These included Bernie Papernick, Larry Matlow, Gordon Strauss, Howard Budd, Myron Matlow, Donald Bierstock, and Burke Brown.

Jewish education in Kitchener had always been important and the Hebrew School thrived in the 1980s, when approximately 75 students were enrolled. Then, in September 1990, Kitchener-Waterloo became one of the smallest Jewish communities in North America to have its own day school, when the Kitchener-Waterloo Hebrew Day School opened. The school ran successfully alongside Beth Jacob’s Hebrew School for ten years, but in 2000, it was forced to close due to low enrolment.

It is not surprising that Beth Jacob faced a daunting challenge in replacing Rabbi Rosensweig after his death in 1989. Several rabbis served the Beth Jacob community in the 1990s: Rabbi David J. Levy, Rabbi Manny Klein (part-time) and Rabbi Nathan W. Langer. Rabbi Joseph Bloch was hired around 2000, but soon decided to make aliyah to Israel. When he was hired, it was necessary for the congregation to discontinue mixed seating in Beth Jacob Synagogue. They also erected a mechitzah that was designed and donated by Gordon Strauss and his wife Joyce.

The 1990s were a decade of change and conflict for Beth Jacob. It called itself a “Modern Orthodox” shul, but many members considered themselves Conservative and they protested that the continuation of orthodoxy was a sham and was damaging the strength of the community. Debate over becoming a Conservative synagogue led nowhere, and around 1996, some 16 of the more liberal families left to join Temple Shalom. At this point, weekday minyans were getting irregular and Talmud Torah numbers were dwindling; Beth Jacob was called “broken” by one president. But faith in the community endured and efforts to revitalize it never disappeared. By 1998, the years of “internal bickering” had ended and Beth Jacob was “now looking to a future of peace, progress and tranquility.” Morale had risen and Shabbat attendance seemed to be increasing.