Nestled along the banks of the Lackawaxen River in Honesdale, Congregation Beth Israel is preparing for this year's celebration of the Jewish High Holy Days.
— Nestled along the banks of the Lackawaxen River in Honesdale, Congregation Beth Israel is preparing for this year's celebration of the Jewish High Holy Days.
Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, services will be held on Sunday evening, Sept.16 at 7 p.m., and the following Thursday morning, Sept. 17, beginning at 10 a.m. There follows 10 days of reflection and confession, concluding with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with services on Tuesday evening, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m., and on Wednesday morning and afternoon, Sept. 26, beginning at 10 a.m.
Unlike many congregations, Beth Israel does not issue tickets nor restrict High Holy Day attendance to members only.
"We are open to all who wish to worship with us at this special time," says Congregation President Henry Skier. Those who are new to the area and those who are looking to return to the Temple are welcome to attend services.
The history of Congregation Beth Israel is very unusual. It is one of the oldest congregations in the United States, founded in 1849. Its present membership is a combination of long time local residents, as well as those who have relocated to Northeastern Pennsylvania from nearby metropolitan areas such as New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Members come from Wayne, Pike, Monroe, Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties.
"We are a small, but a strong congregation," says Skier. "We make an effort to provide a spiritual home for all Jews in the area, while maintaining our small-town flavor of closeness and informality."
Beth Israel also boasts an active Religious School that holds classes on Saturday mornings throughout the year. Subjects include Hebrew reading and comprehension, as well as cultural, historical and religious studies. Rabbi Allan L. Smith, who has led the congregation for 40 years, teaches classes. Rabbi Smith has spent his career working with children, having served as Director of the Youth Division of the Union for Reform Judaism.
"The kids just love him," says Alan Cooper, second vice president. "I remember one day when the Rabbi couldn't make class because of a family emergency, and the children actually cried because he wasn't going to be there."
Congregation Beth Israel welcomes new members and new religious school students, and membership dues are quite modest compared to those in metropolitan areas. "People are shocked when they learn how low our dues are – and then they experience our Rabbi Smith and they say prayers in a beautiful and historic sanctuary under a magnificent chandelier and Tiffany globe sconces, and they know they have found a wonderful spiritual home," Skier says.
Congregation Beth Israel is located at Seventh and Court Streets in Honesdale. Anyone interested in attending High Holy Day Services, in joining the congregation, or enrolling their children in religious school, should contact Henry Skier or Alan Cooper at 570-226-4571.