The oldest Jewish congregation in Bridgeport and third oldest in Connecticut is congregation B’nal Israel, a reform Jewish synagogue. It originated in 1849 when the Jewish settlers teamed up and started an orthodox community so that they can adhere the high holy days. Its first rabbi was Jacobs and had formed a Hebrew school in 1863. With no residence for assembly, the B’nal Israel members met and prayed in each other’s house for 50 years. The plan to build a residence came up in1885. By 1911; the construction was completed and was known as the Park Avenue Temple. By 1911, when park avenue temple was finished, B’nai Israel had moved from Orthodox to Reform Judaism. Some of the Congregants was not happy with the changes, and they departed and formed other synagogues; Adath Israel- Orthodox and Rodeph Sholom- conservative.
Following World War II, B’nai Israel congregation grew tremendously, and the building was not enough anymore. A second building had to be constructed and was designed by the renowned synagogue architect Percival Goodman. Goodman instructed artist Larry river to establish a Torah Ark clothing for the new structure, however, river’s design was eventuated declined, and the work later was taken to Jewish Museum in New York as part of its collection.
In 2002, the temple a gained prominence after its huge junior choir, administered by Cantor Sheri Blum, recorded a CD with Cantor Bruce Benson. The album was illustrated as a combination of original rock music with liturgically exact chants. It was in the line for Grammy nomination. In 2009, the temple after being undergoing renovations and expansions celebrated its 150 years of existence. By 2009, 700 families Belonged to Congregation B’nai Israel, and nearly 400 students were in its religious school.
Congregation B’nai Israel has functioned as a religious, cultural and educational place for Jewish people of the larger red bank area. Multi-generational and egalitarian, Congregation B’nai Israel is a prayer center, mutual observance, Judaic learning center as well as a place of socializing. It is a place to honor life-cycle events and Jewish holidays.Being a part of a conservative movement, Congregation B’nai is committed to teaching the children about the Jewish traditions and appreciating the values, traditions and the history of the Jewish custom. They hope to pass down the Jewish traditions and values to the incoming generations.
Attending the church, I noticed that the church leaders are known as cantor and rabbi, and their main goal is the observance of the Jewish tradition. In the church, they have a ritual committee which administers the services and rituals under the guidance of the rabbi. The committee has served in an advice-giving capacity in regards to maintenance and alterations in rituals, rites, and norms that impact the religious facets of the congregants and take on supervision for Congregation B’nai Israel’s ritual objects. The ritual committee also develops the mechanism to enhance and facilitate communication among the rabbis and the congregation to aid in comprehending and engaging with the whole community.
When I looked at the writing on the boards and posters on the walls, what can be deduced fro it is that they are deeply rooted in the Jewish traditions and norms. There is the diversity of practices, traditions, and spiritual paths. There is also an emphasis on the reverence of Torah for themselves, the community, people and the entire planet. Congregation B’nai Israel believes in God, and what was taught in service I attended is the Torah teachings.As per the Jewish tradition, the words of the Torah are the words of God as stated by Moses. The writings hence are presumed to be among the most precise links between the Jews and God. as such; Jews are so dedicated in the observance of the writings n the Torah as Torah demands. Torah is what is used for ritualistic purposes in the Congregation B’nai Israel.
Looking at the clothing, one can key that a key influence is a bible, modesty is key just like it was in the ancient days of the prophets. To them, clothes are a means of religious rituals and show respect and reverence to God. The men can wear turbans, tunics, cloaks as well as sandals. The Jewish women are required to cover their own hair. The rabbis wear a knee length cotton robe known as Kittel. The same Kittel can be worn y the groom at a wedding or a husband during a Passover feast. Kippah is a rounded cap worn by the rabbis and men and even at times women. It is worn as a sign of showing respect to God. The church has several prayer services that take place regularly.
Kabbalat Shabbat Services take place weekly in the main sanctuary whereas special services such as Shira Chadasha take place monthly. In every Shabbat meeting, there is a Minyan led by a rabbi. Later on, there is a luncheon. These services as I asked some of the members are open to even non-members. So everyone can join them in such services. Shabbat family Minyan is a monthly artistic, interactive Shabbat service that features prayers, musicals, stories, and dances. It is meant for everyone. Tot Shabbat is a monthly, lively Saturday morning programs for young children and their families. Here the wonderful aspects of Shabbat through songs, tales, and dances are celebrated. Contemplative morning Minyan occurs on specific weekdays in the library. These are group settings that engage in prayers or devotion.
The sanctuary structure is full of inscription and symbols deduced from Torah. Some other writings, I could not quite comprehend. The congregants are very friendly people who are very welcoming and warm. When I asked many questions, they were willing to answer all my questions. Sisterhood in CBI exists where they celebrate women of the community. This has been in place for decades now and purposes to engage the Jewish women in community services as well as just supporting those in need and one another and also simply engaging in worship.
Some of the Jewish holidays include Passover. This is the feast of salvation. The second celebration is the Unleavened Bread; this symbolizes the holy walk with God. First Fruits- Reshit Katzir, is the feast recognizing the fertility of the land and thanking God. Pentecost – Shavu’ot, is offering new meat to the Lord. The other feats are the Trumpets, Atonement- Yom Kippur- a feast of confession and finally Tabernacles- Sukkot.
Comparing Congregation B’nai Israel with my church, I am a Protestant- there is a huge contrast. Congregation B’nai Israel tends to adhere to the ancient sacred biblical teachings and observes them keenly. This can be seen even in their dressing whereas the Protestant church is more liberal, when it comes to things are rituals and clothing. In my church, we only observe the Easter celebration- the resurrection of Christ and Christmas- the birth of Jesus Christ. Additionally, there are not so much taboos in our church.
Going to Congregation B’nai Israel was really an eye opener for me as I got to learn how things were done in during the times of prophets like Moses, and Elijah. I learnt the importance of the sanctity of the sanctuaries. It evoked the memories and feelings that one experiences when they watch documentaries or films on the New testaments and the practices and norms done at that times. Congregation B’nai Israel have observe many of ceremonies done in the Old testament whereas in my church it is not.
Congregation B’nai Israel, http://www.bnais.com/index.php/welcome