A Brief History of Congregation B’nai Torah

             It all began when Congregation B’nai Torah—whose members were also members of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia and shared its building and many of its functions—decided to become independent and to establish a Conservative religious identity. It came formally into existence on March 2, 1994, when it received its Certificate of Incorporation from the State of Washington. The appearance of CBT was only a blip on the screen of history, but nevertheless wine glasses were raised and thousands-of-years blessings were chanted on the occasion with the joy of expectation. Indeed, nothing dampened the enthusiasm of this new bareboned organization, even though it was without staff, property, building, or program. What it did have was something more important: it had a Torah!


Then Good News! On June 11, 1995 Congregation B’nai Torah received word that its application for affiliation with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) had been approved, and CBT was proudly recognized as “the smallest Conservative congregation affiliated with USCJ”!


Exciting events now seemed to spring forth from the cornucopia of creativity of the members of CBT: the first Bas Mitzvah on Saturday, April 5, 1997 . . . the establishment of an Adult Education Program . . .the first annual CBT Adult Purim Celebration. . . the first CBT Young Adult Service. . .a unique summer day-camp for Jewish children . . . and the first CBT Community Seder on April 11, 1998, the second night of Passover. The beauty of this Seder was not that it was different, but that it was basically the same as those Seders performed by millions of ancestral Jews for so many centuries. Thus, this observance of tradition merged past and present and pointed the spiritual way to the future. That night the so called “little congregation in the woods” sang “Adir Hu” louder than ever! Meanwhile, a newsletter, CBT Nu’z, was founded and further united the community. Then, in the spring of 2001, the CBT school opened under the dedicated and skillful direction of Sherri Shulman. The excellent curricula of this Beit Sefer included classes in Jewish Values, Torah Commentary, and Geography of the Siddur


January 3, 2004 was a cold and snowy day in Olympia, and the warning of television weatherpersons that the slickness of the road was rapidly forming “black ice” had a somber tone to it, somewhat like an unexpected eleventh plague. Still, members of Congregation B’nai Torah drove cautiously but joyously over the snow and ice to reach 3437 Libby Road. They had come eagerly in order to participate in a historic occasion; namely, to join in the first Shabbat Service held in the newly purchased building that was to become the permanent home for the congregation. Congregation B’nai Torah now had a home of its own; and when the congregants reached page 100 in the prayer book and sang “Hallelujah,” they did so with a gusto reminiscent of the legendary sounds of Jericho!


2009-2010-2011-2012—the years rolled on—and Congregation B’nai Torah reacted creatively to change and continuity in a variety of ways: a Learner’s Minyan, to assist members to improve their proficiency at religious rituals; a course in Speaking Hebrew, to strength communication and understanding among Jews; advanced study of the crises in the Middle East, to alert members to increasingly complicated issues; careful analysis of developments in Israel and proposals for solutions to difficult problems; and the addition of a part-time Rabbi, Robert Maslan (2008-2011). Rabbi Maslan made outstanding contributions to the well-being of Congregation B’nai Torah.


Thus, Congregation B’nai Torah succeeded. It did so because it was able to create a sense of togetherness, a sense of unity, a sense of oneness among its members. In brief, the most important achievement of CBT was the creation of a community. It was a community where each individual felt, with considerable justification, that he or she had a significant identity and role in the congregation—that every person counted. It was a community that was democratic. There was no hierarchy of authority or power. Regardless of their professions, occupations, economic status, or achievements in secular life, each member was equal in decision-making on the issues, plans, and directions of the community; and the community was involved in the life cycle of each member. It was a community with an atmosphere of warmth, of affection, of caring about other members.


In brief, Congregation B’nai Torah is a community of friends that focused on the goodness of the human heart. And, after all, is not that one of the principal goals of Judaism?

© Dan Roselle 2012