ABOUT US

For more information about the history, philosophy, and practices of Reconstructionist Judaism, click here:

History

 

Congregation Beth El was born in 1909 when the Hebrew Congregation of Bennington was founded to promote friendly relationships among Jewish residents of the town and eventually to erect a synagogue. It was chartered by the State of Vermont in accordance with State Law. The Society became inactive after several years and was re-organized in September 1917, again with the purpose of using pledges and funds derived from memberships to start a fund with which to build the synagogue. All matters pertaining to the congregation were discussed at regular meetings held in a room located in the Noveck Block on Main Street.

 

July 29, 1923 brought the culmination of a quarter century of concerted effort in the dedication of the new synagogue at the corner of North and Adams Streets. Widely covered by the press, the dedication not only marked the formal opening of a new house of worship but demonstrated the community feeling of the town and state. Though space was limited, those officially attending included all of the pastors of the community churches (except for one who was on his annual vacation). The village president attended as did Lt. Governor Franklin S. Billings, representing the State of Vermont. In an inspiring program of music and worship the various clergy assisted in the dedication of the synagogue. One of the keynote speakers was internationally famous writer and lecturer and director of the Bennington Museum, John Spargo. Rabbi Isadore Goodman delivered the invocation and the synagogue was formally presented to the congregation by the chairman of the building committee, Max Fienberg. The speaker took the occasion to express appreciation for the assistance, financial and otherwise, that had come from outside the Jewish community. Samuel Margolin, the secretary of the congregation, accepted the building for the congregation, paying tribute to the long continued effort of the Jewish people of Bennington to establish their own house of worship.

 

Services were Orthodox until the late 1960's, during which time the community enjoyed a full time rabbi. With the untimely death of Rabbi Chaim Gross in 1970, and a changing Jewish population the religious focus of the congregation moved away from orthodox tradition to encompass the broad spectrum of Jewish spiritual and cultural tradition. At the same time the demographics within the town's Jewish community were changing as older members of the congregation retired and younger members went on to college and to seek their fortunes elsewhere. During the late 1970's and 1980's Congregation Beth El fell into disuse and disrepair.

A New Chapter

 

On Rosh Hashanah 5748/1988 there were no services at the synagogue. Two members of the congregation attempted to gain entry to the building for private prayer and were unable to do so. One of them was Lilo Glick, who had fled Nazi Germany in the 1930's, and who became determined at that moment that this synagogue was not going to die. Then, on Yom Kippur, Pat Barr and Rolf Sternberg went to the synagogue and were appalled by the condition of the building. The determination of these three people sparked the re-activation of the Jewish life of the community. Meetings were called, the membership organized, work loads discussed, more members sought.

 

Under the leadership of President Pat Barr and the able spiritual leadership of Professor Jerome Eckstein, and with the hard work and dedication of a few people, the little synagogue on North Street blossomed once again. The sanctuary was carefully returned to its original condition, the basement meeting and social room completely renovated, the building's exterior was carefully restored and the synagogue doors were replaced with hand sculpted oak panels created by Gary Sussman. There are now services, children's classes, adult discussions, holiday celebrations and plans for many other activities.

Reconstructionist Judaism

 

Reconstructionist Judaism is based on the ideas and writings of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, longtime professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Reconstructionism interprets the traditions of Judaism for the modern era, infusing the holidays and symbols with meanings beyond just the historical ones. For Reconstructionists, Judaism is more than Jewish religion; Judaism is the entire cultural legacy of the Jewish people. Religion is central; Jewish spiritual insights and religious teachings give meaning and purpose to our lives. Yet our creativity as expressed through art, music and drama, languages and literature, and our relationship with the land of Israel itself are also integral parts of Jewish culture. Each of these aspects provides a gateway into the Jewish experience that can enrich and inspire us.While deeply connected to the historical experience of the Jewish people, we find a profound sense of belonging in our contemporary communities as well. This connection often leads to increased ritual observance and experimentation with the ritual rhythms of Jewish life. We find meaning in rediscovering the richness of traditional ritual and creating new observances which respond to our contemporary communal and personal cycles.Reconstructionist communities are characterized by their respect for such core values as democratic process, pluralism, and accessibility. In this way, they create participatory, inclusive, egalitarian communities committed to exploring Jewish life with dedication, warmth and enthusiasm.As Jacob Staub and Rebecca Alpert write in Explorng Judaism, "Thousands of people across the North American continent who had been disillusioned with the Jewish community and alienated from the Jewish tradition are now active and committed Jews because of their involvement with Reconstructionism. Thus, Reconstructionism has enabled Jews to find new ways to express what it means to be a Jew today.

                                               

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                                                                            Beth El Community Profile

                                                                             Alice and Alan Greenspan

                                                                      (aka Al and Al by family members)

                                                                                                                                               As told to Susan Armstrong

 

Alice and Alan both grew up in Perth Amboy, NJ, around the corner from one another. Al is four years her senior. When they were young, the Depression was in full force, but both considered themselves privileged because they had comfortable lifestyles, despite all the want and need throughout the country. Their families belonged to the same Conservative temple – Beth Mordechai. Alice’s father was Treasurer of the board, “forever.” Al was bar mitzvahed and tutored in Hebrew by Cantor Efron, a well known composer of liturgical music. Because bat mitzvahs were rare at that time, Alice was confirmed.

Alice had a beautiful sister, seven years her senior, named Jacquie. Alan was quick to comment that she looked like Ava Gardner. On Friday nights she would sit on the front porch and the boys would line up to talk to her. Mischievous Alice sat up in a second floor window throwing notes out to the boys. Alice said, “I grew up in the shadow of my beautiful sister.” 

When asked if anything had ever happened in their lives that changed everything, Alice immediately described a giant explosion that occurred on two barges in the Raritan River, just two blocks from her family’s home. She was talking on the phone on the second floor, wearing only a slip, when suddenly the force of the explosion blew out all the windows in the entire house, including the room where she was standing. She was covered in blood from the shattered glass and ran downstairs to see if everyone was okay. Her mother and father had both escaped injury. She threw on her new spring coat and they all ran outside. Being without shoes, she ended up with bleeding feet as well. The city was put under martial law when it was discovered that the barges that had collided were smuggling arms to Pakistan. First aid stations were set up and Alice was able to receive the necessary care. Her brand new spring coat was ruined by the blood, but her mother dyed it blue and solved the problem.

Congregation Beth El  107 Adams Street  Bennington  VT  05201

 

Tel: 802-442-9645     Email: cbevtoffice@gmail.com

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Both Alan and Alice attended Jewish summer camps, Alice in Monterey, MA and Al at Camp Kiowa in Honesdale, PA. They each had dogs in their families and remain dog lovers to this day. They attended local Perth Amboy schools until Al was sent away to a private school, as his mother wanted to shield him from his father’s illness. He attended the George School in Newtown, PA, founded by Quakers. Two of his classmates were Stephen Sondheim and Blythe Danner. Al tells the story that Oscar Hammerstein’s son, Jimmy, was also a student there. Stephen had written some music for a class play, and Oscar Hammerstein himself just happened to be in the audience. And so began Sondheim’s brilliant musical career. The Greenspans attended Sondheim’s play, "Applause," on Broadway years later, and Stephen was in the audience. Al went over to say hello and was greeted by name immediately. It was impressive to be remembered after all those years.

 

In his teen years, Alan sported a pompadour hair style a la Elvis. Walking by Alice’s house one day, he saw her outside. Al flipped her a nickel and said, “Call me when you’re 16.” What a move! He went off to Washington University, then on to graduate school at Northwestern, where he earned a degree in Macroeconomics. Next Al served in the 101st Airborne Division and fought in North Korea. After putting up with freezing conditions in that country, he was sent to Oklahoma City, where he roasted. There Al taught combat intelligence – how to interrogate prisoners. By this time, both he and Alice had married other people and each had three girls of their own.

 

Al had a sterling career on Wall Street with Rothchild & Co., Oppenheimer & Co. and was a Senior Vice President at Morgan Stanley. For years he oversaw the NYC Pension Fund, where he was tasked with foreseeing the economic future. Alice owned a successful interior design company, all the while raising her girls. In fact, she has an assignment right now to design the interior of a home in Burlington. Her creativity never stops.

 

They had not seen each other for twenty one years, but their parents had their fingers crossed that the two would re-connect, because each was getting a divorce. As soon as they saw each another, Al said, “We know each other well. Let’s get married.” But Alice gave him a hard time. She resisted until they finally wed eleven months later. Together they raised their daughters and shared their common interest in mountain climbing. They even traveled to New Zealand, where they scaled some of mountains in the Southern Alps and hiked the Greenstone Track out of Queensland.

 

It has now been forty seven years that Alice and Alan have been married. Their families have melded together – all six girls. They have thirteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren. They have remained happily together for over half of their lives.

 

They moved permanently to Wilmington, VT in 2003, after having spent years coming up to to Mt. Snow from New Jersey with their family to ski. In 1999 they began their association with Congregation Beth El. Al volunteered to manage the CBE investment funds over ten years ago and has done a stellar job. Alice is a trustee on the Board of Directors. We are indeed fortunate that the Greenspans continue to enrich our congregation.

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