A Synagogue Story Filmed for Posterity
“Many congregations all over the South no longer exist because the community moved away,” says journalist Adrian Hirsch. “So it’s really significant that our synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel of Baton Rouge, has survived.” For the temple’s 150th year anniversary, Hirsch, former B’nai Israel president Mathile Abramson, and professional videographer Marc Goldstein created the film, “L’Dor V’Dor—From Generation to Generation, Congregation B'nai Israel of Baton Rouge” to memorialize the temple’s rich history and tell the story of its survival.
While gathering interviews, photos, historical documents, music, and artifacts, Abramson discovered that her husband Steven’s ancestors were among the congregation’s pioneers; his great-grandmother Bertha Abramson helped raise money through cake sales and bingo to purchase the synagogue’s first property. “Seeing how we evolved,” she says, “makes me believe we will continue to survive.”
The film was screened to a packed and thrilled congregation. Each member family received a DVD and copies have also been distributed to Louisiana libraries and other institutions.
Hirsch advises other congregations interested in creating their own history DVD to start early—at least one year before their anniversary. Goldstein suggests you first assess your resources: Would a temple member who is a videographer or researcher help, or do you need to raise money to hire a professional? Can a longtime member who knows the congregation well guide the process? For more advice, contact Adrian Hirsch, email@example.com or Mathile Abramson, Mathile@eatel.net.
Legacy of Love
In 1867, Temple Beth El (House of God) was founded by 65 Jews in Helena, Arkansas—most of them owners of dry goods and other retail establishments thriving in Helena’s steamboat port for the cotton-growing Arkansas Delta. At its peak in the mid-20th century, more than 100 Jewish families lived in this historic town that played a significant role in the Civil War and in the evolution of blues music, but in the last decade the town’s economic depression decimated its Jewish population. In 2006 the 140-year-old Reform synagogue closed its doors.
Henceforth, Miriam and David Solomon hosted services for the nine remaining Jews in their living room, playing music recorded by a Memphis temple and reading archived sermons by a former rabbi. For the High Holy Days they hoped to show a DVD of a service, but when one could not be found, they decided to produce their own. They hired a documentary filmmaker and enlisted Temple Sinai in Washington D.C. (where their son Lafe is a member and there’s a 25+ member choir) as the community to be filmed. The high quality recording now includes erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah morning, Kol Nidre, and Yom Kippur day services.
The nine Jews of Helena watched the DVD in the Solomons’ living room on the High Holidays, the “beautiful music and liturgy exceeding our expectations,” the Solomons say.
On Fridays, about a dozen Temple Israel, Ottawa volunteers cut, design, iron, hand-sew, and sandwich squares together to make baby quilts for families in Israel affected by terrorism. Congregant and retired teacher Merle Haltrecht-Matte proposed the idea of making and sending 60 baby quilts in May 2008, to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary; retired teacher Patsy Royer joined the Israel Tikkun Olam initiative as a quilt teacher and designer. To date the group has exceeded its goal fourfold: Members, religious school students, and friends have personally delivered 250+ quilts and handmade blankets. To learn more or contribute: Merle.firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-824-6833.