As you may have heard, 2023 marks 80 years since the founding of Temple Beth El. For the last year, we have been thinking about how we want to honor this occasion. Digging through the congregation’s archives has been one source of information and ideas.
Among the archives, I’ve found an incredible collection of memories, pictures, stories, brochures, and letters, outlining the rich and vibrant history of this congregation. It is humbling to now serve as one of the stewards for the future of a community that has been in existence for so long. I find inspiration in the ways our predecessors expressed their hopes for the years to come…years that we are now living.
One of the first archival items I uncovered was a program honoring Temple Beth El’s 40th anniversary in 1983, which included a weekend filled with an art exhibition, special Shabbat service, and a “dinner-dance” with a champagne reception the following evening.
The program opens with a letter from then-President Mark Perlin, who writes, “It is a pleasure to welcome one and all to our celebration of forty years of life. Temple Beth El has become a strong, vibrant congregation dedicated to the service of Charlotte’s Jewish community, and to the general community. In the parlance of show biz, however, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’ The next forty years promise to be an exciting period of growth, with the development of the campus project [Shalom Park], a new sanctuary and fellowship hall, and much, much more. We are entering a stimulating era in the history of Temple Beth El…May we all return in good health for the 50th, 60th, and on and on.”
I caught up with Mark to ask him about his reflections on the past forty years. Mark shared, “The most wonderful thing that has occurred is the size, the growth. When Rabbi Jim Bennett arrived , the congregation just took off, as well as the city of Charlotte as a whole. We were lucky enough to take part in all that growth. When you think about the past 40 years, an awful lot has happened. When I was president, we had a split, and the temple shrunk, and then recovered within a couple of years. Thank you to everyone who has participated in bringing about all this growth. I would think that Charlotte in general, and our community along with it, will see the same exponential growth in the next forty years. I would love to be around to see it all because I think what’s going to happen in this area it’s going to be very exciting. I wish I could stick around to see it all.”
We also have a program in the archives from the 50th anniversary in 1994. The photo on the cover of the program, entitled “L’Dor Va’Dor,” shows a picture of a Temple Beth El that looks strikingly different from what we have today, after the expansion that took place a few years later (2011). Inside are truly amazing member family photos (the hair! the clothes!) and a membership phone directory. In their opening letter, then-Rabbi Jim Bennett and then-President Mickey Gold share their hopes for the future: “Our first 50 years as Temple Beth El have allowed us to become a congregation befitting our name, ‘a house of God.’ May the years to come continue to provide us with the spiritual nourishment, education and knowledge, dedication to deeds of loving kindness and sense of community we seek, and may we continue to find blessing.”
Our final stop on this historical tour is the 70th anniversary celebration in 2013. The commemorative directory includes more wonderful family photos, as well as letters congratulating the congregation on 70 years, from luminaries including then-US President Barack Obama, then-NC Governor Pat McCrory, and URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. The welcoming letter from then-President Rick Glaser ends with this dedication: “This directory and our celebration of our 70th are for all who came before, all who are with us today and all who are part of generations to follow.”
As we light our Chanukah candles, and as we turn the page into 2023, I am so proud to be part of the 80-year tradition of Temple Beth El. Our congregation sparks so much joy, friendship, spiritual growth, and learning for Reform Jews of all ages, and as this brief trip through time has shown, we have a proud history of doing so. All members are invited to join us at our 80’s Dance Party on Saturday, March 11, our first celebration for the anniversary year, and we look forward to many opportunities to hear your stories, see your photos, and share our collective love for this community over the next year and beyond.