Beit Chaverim of Westport/Norwalk began with about a dozen families who wanted to form a modern orthodox synagogue. It held its first minyon in December 1988, and quickly grew to meet its name— House of Friends— and its slogan—The synagogue where everyone is welcome.
While orthodoxy describes different roles for men and women, it does not limit women’s participation in the synagogue—so from the very beginning both men and women served equally as synagogue presidents, board members and other officers.
As is often the case, the first year of Beit Chaverim’s life was best described as a synagogue in a mini-van. Chairs, tables, siddurim (prayer books) and chumashim (bibles) were unpacked at various members’ houses before the start of Shabbat and packed back up mid-Sunday morning after Sunday shachrit services.
The synagogue’s first home was a weekend rental in a low-rise office complex near the banks of the Saugatuck River. Fortunately, that year most holidays were on weekends, so the occupants of the more regularly established offices were not aware of our weekend activities.
In 1991 new quarters were found in a second-floor office suite above a bank and shoe store. In this location the synagogue lasted longer than the bank (which closed), and thanks to a cooperative landlord that year’s High Holiday services were conducted in the bank, complete with alarm signs on the doors. The children’s service was held in the vault, and the post Yom Kippur breakfast in the former bank president’s office!
A succession of weekend rabbis such as Rabbi Baruch Goldstein and Rabbi Yasgur conducted Shabbat services and taught classes, which resulted in the current synagogue principle—all are welcome, regardless of their level of observance. If someone needs a transliterated version of a holiday service, the synagogue supplies it. Should a child, due to lack of earlier training, needs special tutoring for bar/bat mitzvah, again the synagogue feels it must be responsive.
The synagogue has always maintained a full program of classes and social events, including several journal-diners, Purim parties and a Mother’s Day dinner with the men serving. For several years, we held a Chanukah party featuring glatt Kosher Chinese food. Served buffet style, the Chinese food was labeled in transliterated style with Hebrew letters (just try to spell “veal fried rice” using Hebrew letters!).
In 1992 Rabbi Fred Hyman, a recent graduate of Yeshiva University, became the synagogue’s first rabbi. Although only serving part-time, Rabbi Hyman conducted a wide range of classes, attracting a number of new members.
In 1995 we completed writing a brand new Torah. Several other Torahs were available and used by the congregation, but as an orthodox congregation, writing our own Torah was a priority.
Rabbi Daniel Frank was the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi, and he served the congregation for two years, departing to become a full-time mohel.
David Kalb served as the congregation’s leader from 1996 until 2004, during which time a Hebrew School was established.
In June of 2005 Rabbi Chaim Strauchler joined Beit Chaverim to provide the leadership in a new period of growth and expansion.
Rabbi Yossi Pollak joined Beit Chaverim in 2008.
In August of 2013 Rabbi Greg Wall joined Beit Chaverim as its new rabbi.