Our congregation has a unique culture that emerges from its location, its history, and the vision that guides its aspirations as we look to the future. On this page, we share some of the story of our congregation by looking back at our history. We provide a brief overview of our congregation today (Our ‘Why we Belong’ page adds to this with congregant stories to introduce you to some of our members). We are also beginning a new cycle of visioning and planning for the future with our congregation, and will provide updates on that process on this page.
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.
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.
In June of 2004, Rabbi Hachen and her husband moved to New Jersey. Rabbi Laurence Elis Milder served as our rabbi from 2005-2011. Cantor Irving Spenadel served as our Cantor from 2002 to 2005. In 2006, we engaged two cantorial soloists, Lisa Marcus Jones and Sharon Brown Goldstein. They provide the music at many of our services, lead our adult and youth choirs, arrange and lead our Tefilah Band, and oversee special musical programs. In July 2007, Rabbi Joseph Eiduson joined our staff as our Educator. In July 2009, Rabbi Eiduson was named Rabbi-Educator. Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz became our new spiritual leader on July 1, 2012.
Who we are
Today, our congregation has a membership of approximately 450 households. Our members come from more than 30 surrounding towns, including Westborough, Northborough, Southborough, Shrewsbury, Hopkinton, Grafton, and Ashland, but also reaching south to Milford, and north to Hudson and beyond. Many choose to move to this part of Central Massachusetts for the quality of life, the excellent public school systems, and the work opportunities. Our Religious School has an annual enrollment of approximately 330 children, from K-12. Our students love being a part of our teen community beyond bar and bat mitzvah, with over 50 of them additionally working as madrichim (young leaders) to assist our teachers with younger grades.
We also have approximately a quarter of our membership who do not have school-aged children. And more people who are 55+ are moving into the area, sometimes to be closer to grandchildren, and we are creating more social and cultural opportunities to bring these members together in our congregation. Our membership includes many interfaith families, multi-ethnic families, and LGBTQ families. Our building is accessible to members with disabilities, and our Religious School staff includes a Special Needs Coordinator who works with our Rabbis to help us be as inclusive in the classroom and beyond as we can.
We have a very active congregation, and every week our building is bustling with activity. Youth group programs for all ages from 1st grade and up, along with a school curriculum that puts community-building at its core, keep our young members busy. Family education programs, special presentations on child and teen issues, and social gatherings throughout the year, engage our parents. Cultural programs, life-long learning, spirituality groups, an active Brotherhood and Sisterhood, and ongoing Social Action advocacy and volunteer opportunities, ensure that there is something for all stages of life at Congregation B’nai Shalom. We invite you to explore our Community and Learning sections of this website to learn more.
We have a diverse membership, and our worship services both on Shabbat and for the Festivals reflect this diversity, with many different kinds of worship experiences offered throughout the year. We invite you explore our Prayer and Ritual section to learn more.
Sustaining our Vision for the future: Celebrating our 40th Year
As Congregation B’nai Shalom approaches its 40th anniversary (2018-19), a number of teams of congregants are planning a variety of ways to commemorate and celebrate as a community. For more information, including the online form where you can indicate your interest in joining one of the teams or projects, click here.