IN THE BEGINNING…
During the early 70’s, a growing population of Jewish families in the communities of Westborough, Northborough, and Shrewsbury were brought together by the efforts of a local Jewish pharmacist. These “connections” led to the establishment of the first Westborough Jewish Women’s Club in 1971, which later grew into the Westborough Jewish Association in 1973, as husbands of the club’s original membership became more active. By 1974, 30 families belonged to the Association and the small group began holding services in members’ homes and in local churches.
The growth in surrounding biomedical community and technology industries and the newly constructed University of Massachusetts Medical Center attracted a variety of new, bright, young Jewish couples that established their homes and fledgling families along the expanding “Metrowest” corridor. With the influx of young families came the need for a religious school. In 1977 the Association set up a one-room schoolhouse for six children at the Congregational Church in Westborough leading to the formal establishment of Congregation B’nai Shalom. By 1978, membership had doubled to 60 households that included 30 school-aged children. For several years, Temple Emanuel of Worcester provided spiritual and administrative guidance.
A HOME, A RABBI, AND MORE…
By 1980, membership had grown to 95 households with 60 school-aged children and Rabbi Debra Hachen was engaged as our first rabbi. The membership moved into a 100 year old estate on Charles Street in Westborough, and together Rabbi Hachen and members worked diligently to make the residence suitable for weekly Shabbat services, while High Holidays were held at a local Unitarian Church. School enrollment jumped to 100 in 1981. Members began contemplating the burgeoning space crisis that culminated in the purchase of the current East Main Street site in 1982. By 1984, the congregation had grown to 160 households and 165 school-aged children, and had hired its first administrator to run the religious school. In June 1986, B’nai Shalom broke ground, and the congregation moved into the new building in time for High Holiday services in the fall of 1987. 1988 saw membership increase to 200 households with 210 school-aged and 50 pre-school children. The congregation continued to grow at a high rate with membership expanding to 406 households (358 school children) by 1996, driving the establishment of a new Planning and Development Committee with the initiative to hire an architect and supervise construction of an addition that was completed in 1998 doubling the size of the original building. B’nai Shalom presently has membership size of approximately 400 households drawing from over 22 surrounding towns.
Cantor Irving Spenadel was engaged as our first cantor from 2002 to 2005. Now we have two excellent cantorial soloists assisting with music at many of our services. In June of 2004, Rabbi Hachen and her husband moved to New Jersey. In July of 2005, we welcomed Rabbi Laurence Elis Milder as our new rabbi. In July 2007, Rabbi Joseph Eiduson joined our staff as our Educator. In July 2009, Rabbi Eiduson was named Rabbi-Educator.In June of 2011, Rabbi Milder left to become Reform Rabbi of the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC. Rabbi Sharon Sobel completed her year as interim rabbi on June 30, 2012. Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz became our new spiritual leader on July 1, 2012.
OUR CONGREGATION TODAY…
Education: The religious school now has about 370 children enrolled from Pre-K – grade 12. Our Chai School includes a confirmation program for grades 8-10 and a post confirmation program for grades 11-12. A number of teenagers also work in the school as Madrichim, helping the teachers in the classroom. Our Jewish Life Educator oversees our family education programs and helps to coordinate and teach in our Chai School. Our adult education programming has expanded in recent years. Torah study meets every Shabbat morning with the Rabbi. The Adult Education Committee oversees a number of programs during the year including 2 classes every Sunday morning, weekly Torah study,“Lunch and Learn”, an annual movie night and an annual “B’nai Shalom Reads” (a common book for the congregation to discuss at a Shabbat service).
Worship: B’nai Shalom is within the mainstream of modern Reform Judaism with respect to worship and ritual practice. Services include significant use of Hebrew and active participation by the congregation during worship. The Rabbi or Cantorial Soloists frequently play the guitar and sometimes piano or other instruments during services. Our congregation loves to sing and our musical repertoire has expanded significantly over the years. The adult choir typically sings during the High Holiday services and at least one other time during the year.
Weekly Friday evening Shabbat services are held at 7:30 pm, except for the first week of the month (Shabbat Rishon) when they are at 7:00 pm. Shabbat Rishon is geared towards families with children in grades 3-7. We hold Shabbat Morning services every week (except during July). On many weeks, we celebrate B’nai Mitzvah. Approximately 45-50 students become Bar/Bat Mitzvah each year and they are typically doubled at a Shabbat morning service. Our Saturday morning Torah Study includes an abbreviated service. Monthly Tot Shabbat services for families with very young children typically attract about 150 people and serves as an important entryway for young families into our congregation.
The congregation uses “Mishkan T’filah” prayer book for Shabbat worship. For Shabbat Rishon we use a special prayer book developed by Rabbi Hachen.
Because members come from very diverse backgrounds, we have tried to develop High Holy Day services that appeal to as many people/groups as possible. High Holy Day services at B’nai Shalom include four morning services on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (One service is a capella with no choir; one service is geared towards families with children in grades 3-7, one service with adult choir participation and one service for families with children in grades K-2.) There are two simultaneous services for Kol Nidrei (one with instruments and one a capella). There is only one service on the first evening of Rosh Hashanah, the second day of Rosh Hashanah and the afternoon, Yizkor and N’ilah services of Yom Kippur. In addition, there is a children’s service in the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur geared to families with very young children.
We have evening and morning services on the first and last day of every festival. There is also a potluck dinner in the Sukkah on the first evening of Sukkot. Confirmation is held on Erev Shavuot. Yom Hashoah is observed with the greater Worcester community. In recent years this has been held at Clark University .
Social & Social Action Programs: Senior WAFTY (the local chapter of NFTY-NE) is a very active Chapter: there is also Junior WAFTY for students in grades 7-8, and Junior WAFTY "lite" for grades 5-6. The Yad B’Yad Committee serves as the caring committee for our B’nai Shalom community. The Social Action committee is involved in a number of projects throughout the year, including participation in a Northborough Meals program and annual Mitzvah Day. There are also community outreach programs aimed at helping the surrounding community. Music committee plans one or more special programs each year where nationally known Jewish musicians come to sing and teach. These programs may be part of a Friday night service or a Havdalah/coffee house on a Saturday night.
Our Sisterhood "captains" our Oneg hosts at our Friday night Onegs, and coordinates a number of Friday evening dinners before services, in addition to programming for their members. Brotherhood runs Cafe Shalom every Sunday morning during religious school where congregants can pick up a bagel and coffee and schmooze. They also sponsor our annual barbeque at the end of Religious School and hold monthly programs on Sunday morning.
Our Early Childhood Committee is very active; coordinating playgroups, monthly Tot Shabbat services, and a variety of holiday celebrations.