Congregation Beth Israel (Milwaukee)

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Beth Israel
Basic information
Location 6880 North Green Bay Avenue,
Glendale, Wisconsin,
 United States
Geographic coordinates 43°08′32″N 87°56′02″W / 43.142111°N 87.933937°W / 43.142111; -87.933937Coordinates: 43°08′32″N 87°56′02″W / 43.142111°N 87.933937°W / 43.142111; -87.933937
Affiliation Conservative Judaism
Status Active
Leadership Rabbi: Jacob Herber
Rabbi Emeritus: Herbert Panitch
Cantor: Jeremy Stein
President: Gayle Weber Rakita[1]
Architectural description
Groundbreaking 1959[2]
Completed 1980[2]

Congregation Beth Israel (Hebrew: בית ישראל‎) is an egalitarian[3] Conservative synagogue located at 6880 North Green Bay Road in Glendale, Wisconsin, a suburb north of Milwaukee.

Founded in 1884 as Congregation B'ne Jacob, the congregation split, re-amalgamated, and went bankrupt before re-organizing as Beth Israel in 1901.[4] The synagogue building it constructed on Teutonia Avenue in 1925, and sold in 1959, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.[4][5] The current building was constructed in three phases,[2] completed in 1962, 1966, and 1980.[4]

Solomon Scheinfeld was the congregation's first permanent rabbi, serving in 1892, and again from 1902 until his death in 1943.[4][6] Herbert Panitch joined Beth Israel as rabbi in 1970, and served until his retirement in 1995.[7][8] Jacob Herber became rabbi in 2003.[9]

As of 2011 Beth Israel was the only synagogue in Milwaukee associated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.[10] The rabbi was Herber, and the rabbi emeritus was Panitch.[1]

Early years[edit]

In 1884 Congregation B'ne Jacob was formed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By 1886 it had split into two congregations, Moses Montefiore Gemeinde and Anshe Jacob. In 1891 they re-amalgamated, creating Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, and the following year hired Solomon Isaac Scheinfeld as the congregation's first permanent rabbi.[4] Scheinfeld had been born in Lithuania in 1860, and had moved to Milwaukee soon after receiving semicha in 1890.[6] He stayed less than a year before moving to Kentucky.[4]

The congregation completed a new synagogue building at 462 Fifth Street in 1893, but was unable to afford the mortgage, and in 1900 the courts foreclosed on the property. The following year the congregation was re-organized as Congregation Beth Israel and re-acquired the synagogue building on Fifth Street, and in 1902 Scheinfeld was re-hired as rabbi.[4] By 1918, the synagogue had 108 member families, and annual revenues of $7,000 (today $110,000).[11]

Scheinfeld served as Beth Israel's rabbi until his death in 1943.[6] During his tenure, he established a maot chitim (literally "money for wheat") fund, to provide for the needs of Milwaukee Jews too poor to afford food for the Passover Seder. That fund continued after his death as the "Rabbi Solomon I. Scheinfeld Moath Chitim Fund", and in 2003 distributed $20,000 worth of food to 600 families.[12]

Teutonia building[edit]

Beth Israel sold its Fifth Street building in 1924, and, after meeting in temporary quarters for a year, constructed a new building at 2432 North Teutonia Avenue.[4][5] However, as the Jewish community of Milwaukee migrated north to suburbs in the 1940s and 1950s, the location became inconvenient. In 1957, a 15-acre (6.1 ha) property was purchased at 6880 North Green Bay Avenue in Glendale, a suburb north of Milwaukee, and construction began on new facilities there in 1959.[2] The Teutonia Avenue building was sold in 1959, and vacated in 1960.[4] On March 5, 1992 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[5]

Move from Orthodox to Conservative Judaism[edit]

Beth Israel was founded as an Orthodox synagogue, and its rabbi, Solomon Scheinfeld, also served as chief rabbi of the United Orthodox Congregations of Milwaukee.[6] However, the congregation had done away with separate seating for men and women in 1920s or 30s; at the same time Beth Israel also instituted English language sermons.[13] The congregation associated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,[10] and eventually became fully egalitarian.[3]

1960s to 1990s[edit]

Beth Israel's current facilities were built in three phases.[2] In 1962 a new school building was completed, and the congregation began holding services there. In 1966, the sanctuary building and social hall were completed and dedicated, and in 1980 work on the sanctuary was completed.[4]

In 1970, Herbert Panitch joined Beth Israel from Congregation Agudath Achim in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He served as rabbi until his retirement in 1995.[7][8]

Events since 2000[edit]

Toronto native Mitchell Joshua Martin, a graduate of the cantorial school at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA), joined as cantor in 2002.[14] In August, 2008, Fortunée Belilos joined as interim cantor.[15] The following July, the synagogue hired as cantor Jeremy Stein, who had graduated that year from the JTSA's cantorial school.[16]

Jacob Herber became rabbi of Beth Israel in August 2003.[16] A graduate of the University of California, Davis, he was ordained by the JTSA in 1996. Before coming to Beth Israel, he served as assistant and then senior rabbi of Philadelphia's Har Zion Temple. His rabbinate there was a subject of the book The New Rabbi by Stephen Fried.[9] Funded by congregation members and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Herber traveled to Uganda in July 2008 to assist in the Abayudaya in converting to Judaism.[17] That year the congregation had 700 member families.[18]

As of 2011, Beth Israel was the only synagogue in Milwaukee associated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.[10] The rabbi was Jacob Herber, the rabbi emeritus was Herbert Panitch, the cantor was Jeremy Stein, and the president was Gayle Weber Rakita.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Contacts, Synagogue website.
  2. ^ a b c d e Congregation Beth Israel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin records, Historical Note, Jewish Theological Seminary.
  3. ^ a b Mission Statement, Synagogue website.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j History, Synagogue website.
  5. ^ a b c NRHP State listings: WISCONSIN - Milwaukee County.
  6. ^ a b c d Hintz (2005), p. 65.
  7. ^ a b Rubin Schwartz (2006), p. 264, footnote 107.
  8. ^ a b Sandin (1995).
  9. ^ a b Cohen (September 26, 2003).
  10. ^ a b c Synagogue website.
  11. ^ American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 21, p. 581.
  12. ^ Cohen (April 11, 2003).
  13. ^ According to Congregation Beth Israel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin records, Historical Note, Jewish Theological Seminary, this happened in 1926. According to History, Synagogue website, in 1937 "High Holiday English Services [were] instituted, with mixed seating allowed."
  14. ^ Cohen (2002).
  15. ^ Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (July 31, 2008).
  16. ^ a b Meet the Clergy, Synagogue website.
  17. ^ Heinen (2008).
  18. ^ What is THI, Tikkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee website, August 28, 2008.


External links[edit]