Our Mission Statement
To cultivate an active and engaged sacred community built on the strength of relationships, diversity and outreach, Congregation Beth El brings to our lives the joy and wisdom of Judaism through innovative, creative and spiritually enriching programs and services.
Jacob Umstadter arrives in Norfolk from Germany. Umstadter, who became the Kosher slaughterer and cantor for the small Jewish community, was shocked by the religious laxity he found here and began to conduct regular religious services.
In 1848, a synagogue called “Congregation House of Jacob” began in rented quarters. In 1850, a cemetery was established on Princess Anne Road. This date was chosen by Congregation Beth El as its official beginning.
The congregation erected its own synagogue on a lot purchased from the Umstadters on the east side of Cumberland Street and held the first service in their new house of worship by the end of that year.
The congregation was reconstituted as Ohef Sholom Temple in September, 1867.
The Civil War brought with it a sweep of Liberalism that caused factions to develop between the traditional founding members and the emerging reform philosophy of newer members agitating for a change in ritual practice. Consequently, the Traditionalists, led by Jacob Umstadter, resigned from the congregation and on February 27, 1870 founded a new synagogue with the name Beth El, thus providing a historical continuity from 1848 to 1870, even though traditional religious services took place under several different congregational names.
Beth El purchased the old Cumberland Street synagogue (Ohef Sholom Temple had previously moved to larger quarters).
The first Hadassah chapter in the state of Virginia was organized at Beth El.
Under the outstanding leadership of Rabbi Louis Goldberg, Beth El became one of the 13 charter members of the United Synagogue of America (today, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).
A new building is erected on what is now Shirley Avenue.
The dual causes of Conservative Judaism and Zionism were furthered during the distinguished rabbinate of Dr. Alexander A. Steinbach.
In 1934, Rabbi Paul Reich joined Beth El and would lead the congregation for the next 33 years. Under him, the congregation grew from 100 families to more than 800.
The Barr Office and Educational Center is constructed and the school wing was completely renovated. Beth El’s total complex now comprises almost the entire city block.
The original structure eventually became the synagogue’s social hall (Myers Hall) when the present 1400 seat sanctuary is constructed.
Congregation Beth El faces the future poised to soar to new heights of communal and religious achievement under the present dynamic and spiritual leadership of Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz, Rabbi Emeritus Arthur Ruberg, and Cantor Wendi Fried and pledging to continue its service to God and its dedication to the perpetuation of traditional Conservative Judaism.