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Synagogue celebrates centennial, embraces future

A close-knit family of members from throughout southern Wisconsin

(Published Sept. 19, 2007, 1:29 p.m.)

A small, but dedicated, group of Beloit's Jewish community founded Congregation B'nai Abraham in 1907 as a place for Jewish immigrants to come together and teach their children about the history, ethics and values of Judaism.

One hundred years later, members Walworth County, Rock County and other southern Wisconsin communities have come together to celebrate the synagogue's centennial year with the theme: "Embracing the Future."

Activities will kick off in September with special Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, and other events are planned throughout the year.

"It's wonderful to have gotten this far, and I hope it can continue," Sima Wexler of Janesville, who has been a lifelong member of the congregation was quoted as saying in a news release. "Each generation has to take over where the previous generation left off."

Wexler's grandfather, Beryl Furman, was one of the congregation's founders. In 1924, the first wedding at the synagogue united her parents, Clara Furman and Harry Filveroff.

The congregation officially received its charter on Nov. 7, 1907, but local Jewish families united earlier when they collected money to aid a co-religionist who needed help. After the need was met, the small amount of leftover money became the treasury for the new congregation.

Members met for religious services in rented halls until 1918, when the congregation bought the former Our Savior Lutheran Church on Oak Street in Beloit. That building served as a place to worship and socialize until 1989, when the current synagogue was built on Oxford Lane. The congregation initially was Orthodox, later became Conservative and is currently Reform.

Today's B'nai Abraham congregation totals about 35 families, with members from Beloit, Janesville and other area communities. Members say the congregation is close-knit, very friendly and would like to welcome visitors and potential new members.

Rabbi Ira Youdovin of Chicago, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, is in his seventh year as the congregation's spiritual leader. He also has occupied leadership positions with national and international Jewish institutions and formerly was a member of the Illinois Governor's Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes.

"Our 100th anniversary demonstrates that in America a congregation that has always been small cannot only survive, but thrive, over a century," Rabbi Youdovin said. "'Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.' That spirit is the lay leadership of the congregation. It's really their achievement."

With its renewal theme and motto "Embracing the Future," the congregation plans many special celebrations and other events throughout the centennial year. Following are some of the events. Others will be announced as details become available.

-Rosh Hashanah, commonly known as the Jewish New Year, is a time to begin introspection, look back at the mistakes of the past year and plan changes to make in the new year. Evening services are planned for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, and morning services will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 13.

- Yom Kippur, which is the most solemn day of the Jewish year, means "Day of Atonement." It is a day set aside to atone for the sins of the past year. The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21. Yom Kippur services take place the next day, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, and continuing throughout the day.

- The Jewish Book Fair, to be held at the synagogue, begins at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. Books about Judaism, children's books and books by Jewish authors will be available for sale.

- The Centennial Celebration Weekend is scheduled for Nov. 2-3. Everyone is welcome to attend the centennial services at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at the synagogue, followed by Oneg Shabbat. Anyone interested in attending the Centennial Banquet on Saturday, Nov. 3, is asked to call the synagogue at (608) 364-4916 for details.

For more information about Congregation B'nai Abraham, call the synagogue or visit the

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