One block over the line in West Hartford, Congregation Beth Israel’s presence announces itself much like the Unitarian Society of Hartford and the Cathedral of Saint Joseph do. There’s no quietly blending in with the neighborhood; no way to pass without noticing.
Before the synagogue was here, it was in Hartford. The structure did not move, just the congregation. The original Congregation Beth Israel congregation worshiped at the former North Baptist Church, located at 942 Main Street. After twenty years in that spot, the community moved into a building constructed as a synagogue — Connecticut’s oldest one, actually — and remained there on 21 Charter Oak Avenue until 1936.
As Hartford’s Jewish community moved to the suburbs, the synagogues, one-by-one, followed.
Now, Congregation Beth Israel is the second notable establishment on Farmington Avenue (first, Tangiers) to greet folks as they venture into West Hartford.
Our two most recent visits fall into the category of “special events” rather than that of “routine service,” but no matter. Over the years we have been to CBI for regular services, special events, and going farther back, Music Together.
Many places of worship in this area seem to have embraced the obnoxious trend of bolting front doors, having everyone enter through a door closest to the parking lot. Thankfully, CBI breaks from this by admitting visitors through both the parking lot door and that which faces of main avenue. If the door is locked, ring the bell. “Security measures” seem drastic, but antisemitism is a thing. I’ve personally never had any trouble getting buzzed in.
Inside, there is a long hall with plenty of doors to choose from. Services have been held in the sanctuary, chapel, and a courtyard outside. For special events, it might not be immediately obvious where to go, since there’s likely lots of activity including children zooming around. Look for a sign or ask.
The restrooms are near the large coatroom.
Visiting a new place can create some anxieties for those who don’t want to stand out as the person doing everything wrong. So, here goes:
CBI asks people to dress respectfully, but I have seen every variation on an outfit show up, from suits to micro mini skirts with Uggs. The latter will get you talked about, but not thrown out. One step up from jeans is always a safe bet.
Nobody is forced to wear a yarmulke. For services, most men do wear them, but this is a Reform synagogue. In other words, there is a lot of tolerance about personal choices. A basket of kippot are near the entrance for anyone — male or female — who chooses to participate in this custom.
Men and women sit together, in case you were wondering.
So, back in February, on one of those cold days that came with a bonus side of drizzle, we headed to CBI for the annual Purim Schpiel. The serious message of Purim is to embrace one’s (Jewish) identity, but mostly, it’s a day for costumes, drinking, eating Hamantaschen, and in this case, watching a campy play.
Friends had been raving about the “new rabbi.” After some prodding I learned that for some this meant the Senior Rabbi, and for others, the Assistant Rabbi. Both are on the younger side. The Assistant Rabbi is a woman.
There have definitely been changes. Continue reading 'Hartford Pew Review: Congregation Beth Israel'»