Congregation B'nai Israel (Sacramento, California)

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Congregation B'nai Israel (בני ישראל in Hebrew) is the oldest Jewish congregation in Sacramento, California. The congregation, which began as an Orthodox community, traces its history back to the gold rush of 1849, when Jewish settlers gathered to observe the high holy days. The congregation purchased its first building at 7th and L streets on September 2, 1852, making it the first congregationally owned synagogue west of the Mississippi River.[1]

Plaque of Congregation B'nai Israel located at 7th and Capitol Light Rail Station, Sacramento.[1]



The congregation has survived the destruction caused by fires and floods throughout its history. In November 1852, fire destroyed its original location at 7th and L streets, and it met in congregants' homes until 1858. A Methodist congregation had constructed a building on their former lot during this time, and in 1858 B'nai Israel purchased this new building. Three years later, it too was destroyed by fire. In 1864, the congregation purchased a former Presbyterian concert hall on 6th street for use as their synagogue. In 1904, the congregation moved to 1421 Fifteenth Street, which also caught fire in 1912, and reopened after a year of renovations. This location was home to B'nai Israel until 1954, when the congregation moved to its current location at 3600 Riverside Boulevard. Through the next few decades, the campus expanded to include the Harry M. Tonkin Memorial Chapel, the Sosnick Library, and the Buddy Kandel education wing.[1]

Roots of other synagogues[edit]

Between 1858 and 1861, a splinter group, calling itself B'nai Ha'Shalom had formed due to differences of opinion. The groups reunited in 1861 following floods that damaged the Bet Shalom cemetery. In 1879, the congregation turned from Orthodoxy to Reform, affiliating with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1885. The more Orthodox members left to form Sacramento's Mosaic Law Synagogue. In 1970, members left the congregation to form Temple Beth Shalom in protest to the firing of the congregation's cantor.[1]

1999 fires[edit]

On June 18, 1999, Sacramento congregations B'nai Israel, Beth Shalom and Knesset Israel Torah Center were set ablaze by Matthew Williams and Tyler Williams, causing over a million dollars in damages.[2] B'nai Israel sustained over $800,000 in damage,[3] the most of three synagogues, having damaged its sanctuary and destroyed its library.[4] Undeterred, the congregation met at the Sacramento community center that same evening for Shabbat services, and days later held a rally that drew over 5,000 people from the larger community.[5] The arsonists later murdered Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder on July 1, 1999.[2] This was the second time that the congregation had been victim of a hate crime, as in 1993, the synagogue was firebombed by a 17 year old white supremacist.[3]


  • Rabbi Mona Alfi, Senior Rabbi
  • Rabbi Michal Loving, Director of Congregational Learning
  • Cantor Julie Steinberg

Former clergy[edit]

  • Rabbi Joseph Leonard Levy, Senior Rabbi (1889–1893)[6]
  • Rabbi Lester Frazin, Senior Rabbi (1974–1995)[1]
  • Rabbi Brad Bloom, Senior Rabbi (1995–2006) [7]
  • Chazzan Carl Naluai (1979–2009)[8]
  • Rabbi Shoshanah King-Tornberg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e History, Congregation B'nai Israel
  2. ^ a b "Man Says He Set Fires at Synagogues" New York Times January 9, 2000
  3. ^ a b Purdum, Todd S., "Apparently Coordinated Fires Hit 3 California Synagogues", New York Times, June 19, 1999.
  4. ^ Virginia Ellis, Mark Gladstone. "Arson Hits 3 Synagogues in Sacramento Area", Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1999
  5. ^ Not in Our Town: Citizens Respond to Hate: Sacramento, PBS
  6. ^ Adler, Cyrus and Dobsevage, I. George, "Levy, Joseph Leonard", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1903
  7. ^ "Our Staff" Congregation Beth Yam
  8. ^ Alfie, Mona, "Remembering Chazzan Carl Naluai, Jr. z”l", Koleinu: The Voice of Congregation Bnai Israel, June 2010