The History of Beth El Synagogue
The Durham Jewish community traces its origins to the 1870s when
German and Eastern European immigrants arrived to peddle and open
stores in the growing tobacco town. In the early 1880s their numbers
were augmented by the arrival of Russian-Jewish cigarette rollers.
The Durham Hebrew Congregation organized in 1887 and rented a hall
on Main Street. In 1892, the congregants formally chartered the congregation
and hired a rabbi. In 1905, they purchased a small, wood-framed church
on Liberty Street which became Durham’s first synagogue.
After World War I, the congregation built a large,
cathedral-style synagogue downtown. When it was dedicated in 1921,
the members took the name Beth El Congregation. Beth El remained
Orthodox through the 1930s and 1940s, but over the years the community
grew more liberal in its religious practices. In 1948, Beth El
hired a rabbi who was a member of the Conservative movement.
The above photo was taken by Sidney Markman (Z"'L) in 1953. Click thumbnail for larger view.
Beth El broke ground for a new Synagogue and Center on Watts and
Markham Streets in 1957. In its centennial year, 1987, Beth El
acquired and renovated the Freedman Center which provides classrooms
and an attractive environment for major social and educational
Beth El today reflects a vibrant, dynamic
community led by a volunteer board, enriched with
the teachings of many dedicated community members.
January 19-21, 2012 we held a gala weekend celebrating our 125 years along with the installation of Rabbi Daniel Greyber. Below are links to photos from the Saturday night celebration and a slideshow of Beth El through the years:
Beth El's Family Photo Album
More history of our community is available on our Durham Hebrew Cemetery pages (click here).