As you have undoubtedly noted, Beth Hillel has been celebrating its 90th Anniversary with special events over the past few months. We had a photo and artifact display in Founders Hall and a historical facts scavenger hunt for the kids at the Annual Picnic in August. We also had a program about the anniversary on the first day of BSBH school, the highlight of which was Bud Lepp sharing memories of what BHT and the school were like when he was young. We had wonderful group story-telling at a pot-luck dinner in November. Over the next few months, there will be more. Look in the Upcoming Events section and for articles and flyers in this issue of Achshav for details.
In June of 1925, Beth Hillel Congregation was officially incorporated as an organization. Its mission was to be a congregation with a modern type of worship so that Kenosha’s Jewish families would have the opportunity to affiliate with Reform Judaism, instead of only having the option of Orthodoxy at the already-existing Bnai Zedek shul. In the 1920s and for the next several decades, one of the hallmark features of Reform Jewish worship was organ accompaniment, choral and soloist performance pieces, and praying in English, using formal, “King James” or Early Modern English, thought to be of high literary quality. (Lots of “thee” and “thou” and “est” on the ends of verbs.) The Reform Movement’s Union Prayer Book was used for “Sabbath” worship.
Those of us in the Baby Boomer or older age groups used this prayer book and experienced this type of worship through the mid 1970s, when the Gates of Prayer siddur was published by the Reform Movement. Around the same time, guitar and piano accompaniment, the influence of folk-style music popularized at Jewish camps, and a cappella singing, using more of the traditional chanting, came into style. The performance soloist gave way to congregational singing. The organ was phased out in most congregations (there are some Reform congregations that still use it), and the language of the English prayers became more colloquial and less formal.
Beth Hillel’s worship history is in keeping with these historical styles and modes. We thought it would be interesting, as we observe the 90th anniversary, to try to capture a bit of our past by holding services in the style of those earlier eras. While the organ still stands in our sanctuary and its pipes are hidden in a closet nearby, we stopped using it regularly in the mid 1980s. It is no longer functional. But, on Friday, January 15th, we will be holding a “retro” service with a musician playing pieces from that era, using our keyboard on the “organ” setting. And we will bring out our remaining copies of the Union Prayer Book for our worship that evening. For some of us, it will be nostalgic. But, if you have never experienced a “Classical Reform” service, it may be an eye-opening moment.
We will also go back to the Gates of Prayer for a service on Friday, February 12. This is the prayer book that many of our 20-50-somethings grew up with. It was the prayer book in use when I came to Beth Hillel 30 years ago and was the first prayer book to offer a variety of types of readings, acknowledging that worshippers of differing theological positions were present in the congregation. A great deal more Hebrew was included in the siddur, and it opened from right to left, which was a significant change from the Union Prayer Book.
Join us on these two special Shabbatot, both for services and for the potluck dinners preceding. Above all, we want this 90th anniversary year to be a time of community building, and there is no better way to do so than to break bread with one another, perhaps sitting with folks we do not know as well, and, in so doing, finding new bonds with our fellow Beth Hillel members.
The last special 90th anniversary Shabbat pot-luck and program will be on Friday, March 4. It will feature our past presidents. Watch for more details in the next edition of the Achshav. The 90th anniversary celebration will culminate on Sunday, March 20, when Beth Hillel’s “Three Rabbis” – young leaders of today’s Jewish community who grew up at Beth Hillel — will headline a special program you won’t want to miss!