Thrown off course by Superstorm Sandy, Congregation B’nai Israel’s gala 90th birthday celebration — originally scheduled for mid-November — will be held Saturday evening, April 20.
In the intervening months, the Rumson synagogue doubled the number of guests of honor, said Fran Semaya, president of CBI. Along with Harold and Adelaide Komar of Little Silver, the original honorees, the event will also spotlight Lincroft residents Sandy and Mark Rosenbloom (see sidebar).
The gala will reflect the congregation’s “inter-generational nature, which is one of its great strengths,” said Rabbi Jeff Sultar. “We have members stretching back to the founding generation who are still active, who represent the rich past of our first 90 years. And we have younger families with children who represent the future of our community and of Judaism — what we like to think of as our next 90 years.”
The anniversary was also celebrated at a multigenerational Shabbat service held Nov. 16. Some 200 people filled virtually every seat in the sanctuary. Many were still suffering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which had struck less than three weeks earlier, said Nelly Segal, the congregation’s “unofficial historian.”
Congregation B’nai Israel was officially chartered on Jan. 5, 1922, at Red Bank’s Borough Hall. It started with just 40 families above a storefront on West Front Street. Just a year later, the growth in membership necessitated a move to 10 Riverside Ave. in Red Bank.
In 1958, the Conservative congregation moved to its present location, 171 Ridge St. in Rumson, to accommodate more members, a school, and a social hall.
In an e-mail exchange with I, Segal recounted numerous highlights from CBI’s past. By 1925, just three years after its founding, membership reached 100 families. Rabbi Arthur Hershon took over as religious leader in 1932 and served for 27 years. A firm believer in interfaith dialogue, he was a frequent guest speaker at local churches.
During the 1940s, when many Jewish servicemen were stationed at Fort Monmouth, Hershon acted as the post chaplain. “Under his leadership, members of the congregation and the Ladies Hebrew Society provided the soldiers with hospitality and entertainment,” Segal said. “In 1948, three years after the war ended, Rabbi Hershon returned from the UJA Convention in Atlantic City with the motto: ‘Empty the DP camps of Europe!’” CBI’s congregants responded with what she called “exemplary commitment.”
On May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, the congregation held a festive celebration. “All Jewish merchants in the area closed their stores to mark the historical event,” said Segal.
In the 1950s, as membership climbed above 250 families, the CBI sisterhood promoted the opening of a nursery school for “all children in the Greater Red Bank area.”
Rabbi Jack M. Rosoff, who had served as Jewish chaplain at Fort Monmouth, was named religious leader in 1964. Two years later, he led three busloads of CBI members to a Madison Square Garden rally protesting discrimination against Jews in the Soviet Union. According to Segal, it was “the largest turnout of any Conservative congregation in the country.”
In 1967 and again in 1973, the synagogue rallied support for a wartorn Israel. The Walk for Israel fund-raiser was launched in 1978.
Notable guest speakers during the 1980s included Israeli politician and author Yael Dayan, daughter of Moshe Dayan; General Alexander Haig; the Rt. Rev. G.P. Mellick Belshaw, bishop of the NJ Diocese; Dr. Edward Blaustein, president of Rutgers University; and human rights activist Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee.
Rosoff retired in 1998 following 34 years in the CBI pulpit and was succeeded by Rabbi Harry Levin, who held the post until 2003. In 2004, the congregation had an interim rabbi, Robert E. Fine, and in 2005, Rabbi Andrew Bloom was selected and held the pulpit until 2011, when Sultar came on as interim leader for a year before being granted permanent status last July.
Segal said Gloria Landy became the first woman president of the congregation in 1983. Cantor Marla Barugel joined the congregation in 1987. That year a motion was passed to permit “appropriate music” on Shabbat at bar/bat mitzva receptions.
The first decade of the 21st century featured the introduction of a Sunday Schmooze, revitalization of the Bikur Holim Community of Caring program, and a Learning Service led by Dr. Yona Shulman and Steve Siers.