ActivePaper Archive B’nai Jeshurun to celebrate 150th anniversary - The Cleveland Jewish News, 10/21/2016

B’nai Jeshurun to celebrate 150th anniversary


The congregation moved to Mayfield Road to be the Temple on the Heights in 1925. That Cleveland Heights structure was the first synagogue outside Cleveland. | Photo / B’nai Jeshurun Congregation






B’nai Jeshurun opened in 1980 in Pepper Pike with a very modern look. | Photo / B’nai Jeshurun Congregation




Legendary cantor Saul Meisels, who died in 1990, became a national fi gure during his 37-year B’nai Jeshurun tenure. He and his wife, Ida, who often accompanied him, were honored Aug. 28 as part of the congregation’s 150th anniversary celebration. | Photo / B’nai Jeshurun Congregation






Michelle Goldstein and her daughter, Emily Goldenberg, 2 | CJN Photo / Carlo Wolff

Jeshurun Congregation


WHAT: B’nai Jeshurun Congregation’s Sesquicentennial Gala Premiere

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 30

WHERE: B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, 27501 Fairmount Blvd., Pepper Pike

INFO: Tickets are $180 per person and will include dinner stations, a dessert buffet and an open bar. The event also will feature a 7 p.m. screening of “L’dor V’dor: The History of B’nai Jeshurun” a fi lm by Todd Kwait, followed by an auction and dessert reception. For reservations, call Paula Botkin at 216-831-6555, ext. 109 or visit the synagogue offi ce. For endowment information, contact Kim Cole, development director, at 216-831-6555, ext. 132. More information at


Congregation Beth Am merged with B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in 1999. | Photo / B’nai Jeshurun Congregation


Illustration by Lillian Messner

Don’t expect a celebrity to highlight B’nai Jeshurun Congregation’s Sesquicentennial Gala Premiere at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 30. The star that night will be the congregation itself. The celebration should be a singularly and joyfully extended family affair.

“This is an extraordinary milestone for us,” said Rabbi Stephen Weiss, senior rabbi of the Conservative congregation in Pepper Pike. “It’s not every day a synagogue turns 150 years old,” he added, noting “many synagogues have opened and closed their doors in those years,” and for one to remain a “strong vibrant force in the community for a century and a half is amazing.”

The congregation’s gala premiere caps a yearlong celebration of its sesquicentennial. Sure to be a highlight is the premiere of “L’dor V’dor: The History of B’nai Jeshurun,” a 50-minute film by Todd Kwait. It traces the congregation from its 1866 founding in Cleveland to the present day.

An amalgam of several different congregations, including Beth Am and Bethaynu, B’nai Jeshurun also has evolved from Orthodox to Conservative over the years. It is nothing if not dynamic, Weiss and his close associates suggested.

Weiss credited a “very strong lay leadership,” a host of special programs targeting specific demographics and a vibrant clergy for the continuing success of B’nai Jeshurun.

“I think the congregation has evolved many times over the past 150 years, always adapting to the changing needs and concerns of the Jewish community,” Weiss said. Among its hallmarks: commitments to strong support of Israel, to civil rights and social justice, and to being a center for prayer, spirituality and Jewish learning.

“During the 15 years I’ve been here, the congregation has intensified its programming, reaching out to young families and to many different demographic groups in the Jewish community through the formation of a number of special groups aimed at young families, seniors and empty nesters,” Weiss said.

“Our calendar is incredibly full. On any given day, there are multiple events, classes, programs and prayer opportunities within the congregation. If you are looking for a place to learn, to grow, to celebrate, to engage in rebuilding our world, there is something here for you.”

Michelle Goldstein, a congregant all her life, brings her younger daughter, Emily Goldenberg, 2, to B’nai Jeshuurun’s kinder Shabbat program, and her older daughter, Minna Goldenberg, who is 5, goes to the Shabbat school.

“Right now, I love all the young family activities,” Goldstein said. “I love the clergy, and the rabbis and the cantor are very welcoming and warm. It feels like a real community, and there are a lot of people who regularly attend.

“It feels like there’s more social groups now,” she added. “I think it’s a good thing – it connects more people to the shul since the congregants live all over the East Side.”

Shelley Scher, who became congregation president in May, has attended B’nai Jeshurun since her family arrived in the area, before the 1999 merger with Beth Am.

“I think the congregation has grown together after the merger,” she said, noting her family knew nobody when it moved to Cleveland from Pittsburgh 18 years ago. “B’nai Jeshurun has been a social, educational and spiritual resource,” she said, “and it’s a place where I go and have been to feel really connected to my community.”

The gala is the culmination of a 14-month celebration that has included bringing in scholars for learning, concerts, social action activities and community building. While it will honor B’nai Jeshurun’s colorful past, it also aims to fortify its endowment so it can continue – and grow.

About 1,000 families attend B’nai Jeshurun, said Weiss, and while the congregation is growing younger, it’s not growing in number. Membership is stable, however, and Weiss said he expects the number to swell.

“The Cleveland Jewish community is not growing,” he said, “but I fi rmly believe that in the long run, it will grow again,” and 150 years from now a “signifi - cant Jewish community in Cleveland will need B’nai Jeshurun to be there, to be a support for their lives and to be a spiritual center.”

Kim Cole, director of development, said, “Our aspirations were to have a phenomenal year of rich programming … with the end goal to be a stronger community, to be a stronger congregation. Having a strong endowment will allow us to have the resources necessary to continue into the next 150 years.”

For an outsider’s insight into the congregation, turn to Kwait, a member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood. Copies of his fi lm will be made available to members and for online viewing, and Kwait intends to donate archival material to B’nai Jeshurun.

“What I learned in the making of this, which I think was the most surprising thing, is a lot of people my age take this kind of history for granted,” Kwait said. “I don’t think we realize the hardships and the struggles that people literally persevered with and continued. That resilience of generation after generation is an awakening. I think intuitively we know it’s there, but when you hear this story and think about it in context, it’s remarkable. That in turn makes me feel close to Judaism, including culturally.”

His greatest challenge was interweaving the stories of three congregations – B’nai Jeshurun, Beth Am and Bethaynu – into a cohesive narrative, Kwait said. He accomplished that through multigenerational interviews with B’nai Jeshurun families.

One of those families was that of Albert and Norma Geller. Norma Geller’s parents, Hungarian Jews like B’nai Jeshurun’s founders, moved to Cleveland Heights in 1940, attending the Temple on the Heights on Mayfi eld Road just east of Lee Road. It’s now known as the Civic Conference and Events Center.

Norma Geller has been a congregation member for more than 75 years, and was on the board of trustees for several years. She also was chairman of its school board.

“It just felt like home to me,” Norma Geller said of B’nai Jeshurun. “I was married there, two of my four children were married there, my husband was an offi cer of the Young People’s Congregation … It’s like it’s my second home, where I feel so comfortable. The people are very warm and the clergy is extremely caring. I’ve been through some rough times, and the clergy was always there for me. No matter when it was or what we needed, the services conducted by the rabbis, it’s just, like, my temple, my home.”

The Cleveland Jewish News is a sponsor of the congregation’s 150th anniversary celebration.