Open Hearts. Open Minds. Strong Values.

History

There has been a Jewish presence in the Charlottesville area since Colonial times and the city has been home to Jewish families since the late 18th century. Because Jewish worshippers do not need a synagogue building in which to pray, the first act of establishing a permanent Jewish community is often the founding of a proper burial site; a cemetery. In 1870 the land for the Hebrew Cemetery, located at Elliott and 1st Street, was deeded to the Charlottesville Hebrew Benevolent Society, with two prominent members of the Congregation as its trustees.

Founded in 1882, Congregation Beth Israel is the oldest continuously utilized synagogue in Virginia and among the twenty oldest continuously utilized synagogues in the United States. Formally affiliated with the Union of American Reform Jewish (now the Union for Reform Judaism) congregations since the 1920s, many worshippers are Conservative/traditional, and some follow other varieties of ritual practice.

1882   The cornerstone was laid for the original synagogue on Market and 2nd Street at the current site of the Jefferson Madison Library. It was the first synagogue in the region.

1883   Rabbi William Weinstein was brought from Alabama to lead the congregation.

1904  The Federal Government purchased the land to build a Post Office and building materials from the old synagogue were moved to the present site on Jefferson Street. The design of the new structure was modified and improved by local architect George Wallace Spooner in Gothic Revival style, a common religious architecture at the time. Spooner designed some area churches and other buildings in a similar style. The fleur de lis on the synagogue’s rooflines are sometimes mistaken for crosses.

1927  Congregation Beth Israel joined the Union of Hebrew Congregations establishing itself as a Reform Congregation.

1946  A fired destroyed the roof to the CBI sanctuary. During that time synagogue members worshipped at the Hillel Foundation at UVA and at a number of churches who offered the use of their sanctuaries during the renovation period. Likewise Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church used Congregation Beth Israel when its new church was being built.

1979  Rabbi William Weinstein resigns and after nearly a century of lay leadership, Rabbi Daniel (Dan) Alexander is hired as the first full time rabbi of the synagogue.

1987  Additions were made to the synagogue, and again, churches offered their space. In turn, when Holy Comforter Catholic Church on Jefferson Street underwent renovations, CBI reached out to them.

1994   An exhibit was mounted at the Albemarle County Historical Society detailing the history of Jewish settlement in the Charlottesville area. An accompanying catalog was written by Carol Ely, Jeffrey Hantman, and Phyllis Leffler, entitled "To Seek the Peace of the City: Jewish Life in Charlottesville." Read Phyllis Leffler's, "History of CBI."

1994   Further additions to the synagogue provided much need space for the growing congregation, including a small sanctuary, classrooms, a library, new kitchen, offices, and the large O'Mansky assembly hall named in honor of Harry and June O’Mansky, proprietors of The Young Men’s Shop on Main Street from 1931-1990, and leaders of the Congregation throughout that period. Bruce Wardell was the architect of the new construction.

1999   CBI acquired a Torah Scroll on permanent loan from the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trusts that had been confiscated by the Nazis from Frydek-Mistek along with hundreds of others from the former Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia. These scrolls were rescued by the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust in 1964 and since then, many have been distributed to Jewish communities around the world in order to memorialize those lost communities. 

2016   Rabbi Daniel (Dan) Alexander retires as Senior Rabbi after 28 years and became CBI’s first Rabbi Emeritus. Rabbi Thomas (Tom) Gutherz, CBI’s Religious Educator for the past 11 years becomes the new Senior Rabbi of the congregation. Construction starts on a new kitchen with Board of Directors voting unanimously to name the kitchen in memory of Liora Laufer (1952-2015) known far and wide in the Congregation as a tireless  campaigner for the well-being of others.

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“The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the fruits of tzedakah quietness and confidence.” – Isaiah 32:17

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