B’nai Israel commemorates 150-year anniversary with weekend celebration

–by Cathy Sperling

Cantor Ivor Lichterman, Bishop Daniel Day, Rhoda Miller, Cathy Sperling and Bruce Post in front of Bishop Day's church
Cantor Ivor Lichterman, Bishop Daniel Day, Rhoda Miller, Cathy Sperling and Bruce Post in front of Bishop Day’s church

Congregation B’nai Israel, a Conservative Jewish Synagogue in Sylvania, kicked off its 150th anniversary year with a celebratory weekend Sept. 16 to 18.

B’nai Israel started in 1866 as an Orthodox congregation in downtown Toledo by a small group of European immigrants, many of whom were from Holland. By 1888, they had garnered sufficient numbers to build their first building.  By 1913, the 150 families built a huge and impressive structure on North Twelfth and Bancroft streets where they worshiped for the next 40 years until moving into their modern structure on Kenwood Boulevard where they remained for 50 years until moving to their new home in Sylvania in 2007.

Several events took place over the kickoff weekend.  Friday evening’s service featured the debut of the Ruach Chorus, a 22-person choir. Guest clergy during the weekend were Rabbi Michael Ungar and Rabbi Daniel Stein. Rabbi Ungar was the Rabbi at B’nai Israel from 1997 until 2002 and currently is Senior Rabbi at Tifareth Israel in Columbus.  Rabbi Stein, who grew up in Toledo and attended B’nai Israel, is a graduate of Southview and his parents, Sanford and Sharon Stein, still reside in Sylvania. Rabbi Stein is the Rabbi at B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, Calif.  On Saturday morning, the congregation honored several members who were descendants of early families and they dedicated the Megillat Kehilla Shel B’nai Israel “the story of B’nai Israel,” a scroll housed in a beautiful case designed by local artist, Gabi Mallin.

Saturday evening, following a  Havdalah service under the stars, there was a celebratory reunion party featuring a surprise visit by the “150-year-old man and woman,” Tom Helberg and Debbie Katz Liebenthal. Both life-long members of the congregation, they entertained the members with reminisces of life, long ago through current members’ oral histories. Some members of the Ruach Chorus also participated in a sing-along written by Meira Zucker of 3Z Productions.

On Sunday, the group paid their respects to their ancestors at both Eagle Point and Beth Shalom cemeteries before they toured their early synagogue building on Bancroft and Twelfth streets now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and the current home of the True Church of God of the Apostolic Faith.

Cantor Ivor Lichterman, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel, led all the services throughout the weekend and worked closely with the co-chairwomen Fagie Benstein, Sharon Stein and Cathy Sperling to create a memorable weekend.