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Our History

 

Beit Chaverim began with about a dozen families who wanted to form a modern Orthodox synagogue. It held its first minyan in December 1988, and quick 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.

The first year of Beit Chaverim’s life was best described as a synagogue in a mini-van. Chairs, tables, siddurim and chumashim were unpacked at various members’ houses before the start of Shabbat and packed back up mid-Sunday morning after Sunday Shacharit 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 our use of the space did not disrupt the occupants of the more regularly established office activities. 

In 1991, new quarters were found in a second-floor office suite above a bank and shoe store. A succession of week-end 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.

In 1992, Rabbi Fred Hyman, newly graduated from Yeshiva University, became the synagogue’s first rabbi. Although part time, Rabbi Hyman conducted a wide range of classes, attracting a number of new members. In this location, the synagogue lasted longer than the bank, 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 break fast in the former bank president’s office.

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. An annual event for several years was a Chanukah party featuring glatt Kosher Chinese food. 

A major project undertaken and completed was the writing a brand new Torah. Several Torahs were available and used by the congregation, but the idea that an orthodox congregation such as Beit Chaverim should write its own Torah was a priority, and the torah was completed in 1995.

Rabbi Daniel Frank was hired as the synagogue’s first full-time Rabbi, and served the congregation for two years - retiring to a career change as a full-time mohel.

Beit Chaverim posted its first web page in 1995, with advertising from local businesses – probably the first synagogue in the area to use this new medium to communicate with the community and its members.

Rabbi David Kalb served as the congregation’s leader from 1996 until 2004. We were fortunate that we were able to spend an extended period of time at an interim location on Post Road in a new building as we searched for a permanent location.

In June of 2005, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler joined Beit Chaverim to provide the leadership in a new period of growth and expansion. He established a set of adult and teen-age classes.

In 2008, Rabbi Yossi Pollack took over the leadership position, introducing musical Havdala services complete with guitar and monthly Friday night dinners. Daytime adult classes and events included several programs on the techniques and tricks of a Kosher chef.

In 2013, Rabbi Greg Wall assumed the pulpit.  He added more music with emphasis on jazz. A large number of educational programs were started in addition to Talmud study in several locations, including on sailboats on the Long Island Sound and in the Caribbean.

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784