THE FIRST 85 YEARS
Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg continues its award-winning record of achievement supporting Jewish life in Pinellas County. It maintains a full schedule of activities and special events: Mitzvah Day, Hebrew High School, Adult Studies, Pauline Rivkind Talmud Torah and Preschool, Sisterhood and Men’s Club, B’nai Israel Review, Library, Youth Department (USY, Kadima and Halutzim), and College Outreach. B’nai Israel has the only twice-daily minyan on the west coast of Florida.
As we chronicle the first 85 years of the life of CBI, we thank God for the blessings we have received, and pray our future will be even better than our past.
- 1923: In St. Petersburg, Florida, twelve Jewish families meet for services in Charlie Davis’s store on Central Avenue. Congregation B’nai Israel is born. Its first home is a rented store on 13th Street North and 2nd Avenue North. Hyman Jacobs is the first congregation president.
- 1926: The congregation moves to a larger building, a former church, on 9th Street North and 9th Avenue North, later to become a radiator shop and restaurant. Traveling rabbis serve CBI and the congregation starts a religious school.
- 1935: New building opens at 1039 Arlington Avenue. Samuel Gilbert serves as lay cantor before assuming the board presidency and the congregation hires Rabbi A.S. Kleinfeld as spiritual leader. Many members cannot afford to pay yearly dues. Jewish businesses are nearby, and one congregant walks from store to store, collecting quarters to support the synagogue.
- 1947: Congregation hires Rabbi Morris B. Chapman.
- 1949: CBI affiliates with United Synagogue of America and establishes a chapter of USY, United Synagogue Youth.
- 1950: Congregation doubles the size of the building to include a social hall, classroom, and library. Rabbi Chapman initiates the Institute of Adult Studies.
- 1957: Board president Dr. Harold Rivkind kicks off a rally to raise $250,000 for a new building.
- 1958: New building opens at 301 – 59th Street North.
- 1960’s: Congregation adds permanent seats in the sanctuary, interior decoration and landscaping. The Sisterhood, USY and educational programs receive national recognition. In 1969, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism awards the national Solomon Schechter Award to CBI for its Adult Education Program.
- 1970: The congregation builds subsidized senior housing, Menorah Center, now Philip Benjamin Tower, and Menorah Gardens, a Jewish cemetery. CBI’s library receives the first citation from the Jewish Book Council of America.
- 1973: Congregation celebrates its 50th anniversary. Rabbi Louis Lederman succeeds Rabbi Chapman. The congregation honors charter members Ethel Rothblatt and Leon Haliczer.
- 1977: Rabbi Jacob Luski takes the pulpit. CBI hosts music festivals featuring Hazzan Farid Dardashti and Cantor Joseph Schroeder.
- 1980: Pinellas County Jewish Day School opens at CBI with 27 students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade.
- 1981: Adele Morris is elected first woman president of the Congregation. Cantor Irving Zummer joins the Synagogue family.
- 1985: CBI sells property next to its building to help develop Menorah Manor, a Jewish nursing home. The stained glass “Windows of Wonder” is installed in the main sanctuary. The artist is Victor Berthelsdorf of Kalaidescope Glass Works in Lutz, Florida.
- 1992: United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism presents CBI the Synagogue of Excellence Award for outstanding programming. The congregation receives that recognition again in the next seven biennial meetings of the USCJ: 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006.
- 1993: Cantor Shimon Gewirtz joins the staff. The synagogue celebrates its 70th anniversary and starts planning for a new building.
- 1998: Groundbreaking begins in October. Construction on the new building proceeds while the old building remains in continuous operation. “Windows of Wonder” is moved from the old building to the new. The Jewish Federation of Pinellas County presents CBI the Yitzhak Rabin Award for Program of Distinction for its “Hanukka Fest ’97.”
- 2000: In April, the congregation moves to the new building at 300 – 58th Street North; it is officially dedicated December 17.
- 2002: On Yom Hashoa, April 8, CBI dedicates Holocaust Torah Scroll #1128 in memory of Maurice Goldblatt. Upon Shimon Gewirtz’s retirement in May, Hazzan David Sislen joins the synagogue family in August. The Jewish Federation of Pinellas County confers the Yitzhak Rabin Award for CBI’s “Mitzvah Day 2002” program.
- 2003: Congregation B’nai Israel marks its 80th Anniversary. Rabbi Jacob Luski receives an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The annual Hanukka Fest expands to become the “Gift and Craft Show” open to the entire community.
- 2005: CBI receives the national Solomon Schechter Award for its Advocacy For Israel Committee, the “A-Team”, from United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
- 2006: The Jewish Federation of Pinellas County confers the Yitzhak Rabin Award for CBI’s “Mitzvah Men’s Club Shabbat at Menorah Manor” program.
- 2007: Congregation receives the national Solomon Schechter Award for its B’nai Israel Review monthly publication from United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
- 2008: On March 16, the Tom and Shevy Silverberg family donate a new Torah to Congregation B’nai Israel in honor of their parents, designed and scribed by Shevy’s brother in Israel, Shmuel Charif. Paul Goldstein follows David Sislen to become the new Hazzan in September.