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Celebrating Our Inspiring History by Rabbi Mona Alfi

   In 1849, a small number of pioneer Jews gathered at the jewelry store/residence of Moses Hyman on Front Street, in what is now Old Sacramento, to worship during the High Holy Days. That minyan grew and evolved to become Congregation B’nai Israel. Moses Hyman was the first of many dedicated lay leaders and clergy throughout our history. His gravestone honors him as:

The Pioneer of California

The Friend of the Poor

Beloved of God and Man

   In September 1852, the B’nai Israel synagogue was consecrated in a building at 7th and L Streets, bought from the Methodist Episcopal Church for a reported $2,000. That building was the first of five temples owned by B’nai Israel. In 1958, the State of California and the City of Sacramento installed an official plaque commemorating this inaugural Jewish place of worship in California (see photo, right).

   On April 2, 1954, Congregation B’nai Israel members and guests gathered 1,000 strong to dedicate our new congregational home (our fifth temple) on Riverside Blvd. The stained-glass panes held within them smaller panes brought from the old temple at 15th and O Streets (the fourth temple). The dedication was exactly 50 years after, to the very night, the dedication of the old temple. Rabbi Irving Hausman and CBI President Dalton G. Feldstein led the sacred procession of the Torahs to their new ark. It was widely agreed that Dalton was “the propelling force” behind the new temple, and he gave the dedicatory address, asking the gathering to pay its respects to those pioneers who founded B’nai Israel more than 100 years earlier. Dalton spoke: “This is the first time in my life that I have the honor and the pleasure to dedicate a house of worship. The problems and trials that went into bringing it into being are as nothing tonight.”

   These are but three examples of our communal efforts over 170 years to build a sacred community and to engage in Torah (study), avodah (worship) and g’milut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness). We stand on the shoulders of those giants who came before us. Together we have created a strong spiritual community, an extended family to share the joys and to support each other through the sorrows of life, to engage in lifelong learning, and to support social justice.

   Throughout the 2019/20 anniversary year, we will celebrate our past, enjoy our present, and build our future. We will join together not only to celebrate but to ensure that our beloved congregation will remain a vibrant Jewish home for worship, education, and social responsibility for the generations to come. The kickoff of our 170th anniversary celebration will be on Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sunday, September 29, with a special sermon from Rabbi Alfi and the distribution of a brochure and other materials describing the activities for the year. All of the wonderful events are listed below in chronological order, but we want to highlight three special weekends with activities for all ages and for varied interests:

· The weekend of November 15 and 16 will include two events. On Friday there will be a special Shabbat service with Rabbi Emeritus Lester Frazin, followed by a festive Oneg catered by the Brotherhood. Saturday will feature a gala banquet at CBI, with our honored Sacramento mayor as the master of ceremonies, short speeches, lovely music, and an opportunity for a group photo of members of Confirmation Classes going back over seven decades.

· The weekend of January 17, 2020, will include a Social Justice Shabbat with Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and a variety of hands-on social action service opportunities on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

· The weekend of February 29 and March 1, 2020, will bring a fascinating historical Scholar-in-Residence program (including dinner) on Saturday evening, and an exciting cemetery tour at the Home of Peace on Sunday morning.

   As part of the 170th anniversary celebration, our outstanding archivists, Deborah Gordon and Leah Ezray, are mounting a new exhibit in Heritage Hall (the foyer north of the Social Hall) to highlight the leadership of our congregation in tikkun olam over the past 170 years.

We are both very pleased to have the honor and responsibility of serving as co-chairs for the 170th  Anniversary Celebration. We are hopeful that we will be able to describe the challenges “as nothing” and to cherish the pleasures as, together, we all build community. We welcome comments and suggestions.


Marc Koenigsberg (

Dorothy Landsberg (


Sun, September 20 2020 2 Tishrei 5781