Looking Back at Beth El’s Rich History

On December 16, 1920, a letter was printed in the Post Telegraph newspaper that began,

Dear Co-Religionists: You are cordially invited to attend the celebration of the organization of the CONGREGATION BETH EL which is to be located in Parkside (Camden, NJ).

That letter concluded with this statement:

In the organization of this Congregation will be realized the long felt need for a modern Synagogue and Hebrew school in Parkside where services can be conducted in a proper and befitting manner, in charge of a competent Rabbi; and where Jewish ideals can be instilled into the hearts and minds of the younger generation.

The response to the letter was extraordinary. In fact, the synagogue abandoned its first building site because it became obvious that it would be too small for a building capable of accommodating all the members. In May of 1921 the synagogue board bought the land at Park Blvd. And Belleview Avenue for $8000. A school building was erected first and the synagogue officially incorporated on November 1, 1921. Rabbi Simon Grayzel was our first Rabbi. In 1922 Cantor Jacob Mickleman became our first Hazzan. The first sanctuary was dedicated on December 14, 1924.

Rabbi Grayzel left Beth El in 1926 and was succeeded briefly by Rabbi Arthur Neulander. He in turn was succeeded by Beth El’s “bachelor Rabbi,” Nachman Arnoff in the fall of 1927. Rabbi Phillip Lipis began his tenure in the spring of 1935. Rabbi Lipis established our first Men’s Club, the T’fillin club, the first Junior Congregation and our Hebrew High (1938). Rabbi Lipis enlisted in the Navy to service as a chaplain in 1943 and during his three years of government service, Rabbi Max Weine served as Acting Rabbi. Upon his safe return, Rabbi Lipis served Beth El for one more year until he took a new pulpit in Oakland, California. He was succeeded by Rabbi Harry B. Kellman.

Under Rabbi Kellman’s dynamic leadership the congregation continued to grow by leaps and bounds. He was known for his oratory and mastery of the English language and was venerated by both congregation and community. Under Rabbi Kellman’s guidance and after numerous meetings and much discussion the congregation decided on November 14, 1960 to buy a 10-acre parcel of land on Chapel Ave. in what was then known as Delaware County. In December of that same year Rabbi Isaac Furman, the brother-in-law of Beth El sexton Dov Gilden, came to direct the Beth El Religious School and soon after the nascent Beth El Academy Jewish Day School. Construction of the new building on Chapel Ave. began in 1967 and it was dedicated on Sunday, May 26, 1968.

Rabbi Kellman retired in 1969 after 22 years of service to Beth El. Rabbi Furman succeeded him in the interim until Rabbi Howard Kahn became the spiritual leader of Beth El in 1969. Under Rabbi Kahn’s leadership Beth El became the preeminent Conservative synagogue in South Jersey. Rabbi Kahn innovated many new programs including the very popular Adult Bat Torah Program that brought greater Jewish learning to dozens and dozens of women. Much beloved by the congregation, a man known for his warmth as well as eloquence, Rabbi Kahn served Beth El until his retirement in 2000. At the time of his retirement, Rabbi Kahn could take great satisfaction in knowing that his efforts had led to the establishment of our new educational campus in Voorhees. Unfortunately Rabbi Kahn passed away in May of 2003.

In 1994 Rabbi Aaron Krupnick came to Beth El as its first Associate Rabbi. Upon Rabbi Kahn’s retirement, Rabbi Krupnick became Beth El’s Senior Rabbi. Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz became Beth El’s next Associate Rabbi in 2003. Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz-Boro came to Beth El in 2004. Rabbi Noah Arnow joined the congregation in August, 2010. After 8 years at Beth El, Rabbi Arnowitz assumed the position as Senior Rabbi in Norfolk, Virginia, in August, 2011. Together they have made a dynamic leadership team whose mutual respect and appreciation are obvious to all. Under their leadership Beth El looks forward to a bold and bright future.

Click here and here for a review of Congregation Beth El from Camden to Cherry Hill. The site is maintained independently by the DVRBS–Delaware Valley Rythm and Blues Society. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to Local History, Community Service, Senior Dog Adoption and Classic Rhythm and Blues Music.