Independent Jewish Synagogue in Asheville, NC
Congregation Beth Israel was founded in 1899 by a group of Jewish families who were caring for loved ones who had come to Ashevile seeking a cure for their tuberculosis. The congregation’s original name,Bikur Cholim, is the mitzvah for visiting the sick. CBI was originally an Orthodox shul, having broken away from Beth HaTephila, Asheville’s only other congregation. The CBI congregation initially worshiped in the Masonic Temple and the Church Street Odd Fellows Hall. Membership grew slowly, and the congregation went through a series of rabbis whose terms were generally short.
Seeds for the congregation’s do-it-yourself attitude were sown early on. The congregation frequently had no rabbi at all, and High Holiday services were often led by lay members. Solomon Schechter came to Asheville in 1904 to assist in executing a merger of Beth HaTephila and Bikur Cholim, but the negotiations fell through. It hired its first full-time rabbi, Louis Londow, in 1909, though Rabbi Londow had to open a grocery store to make ends meet. Described as “a model of civility”, he “was known to remove his hat whenever he got a phone call from a woman”.
The synagogue opened a religious school in 1911. In 1913 work began on the shul’s first building. By 1916, the building stood ready to welcome its members. The grand opening was set for erev Rosh HaShanah. It burned down the day before. It took eight years to raise the money and rebuild on the same location, but the congregation finally had its own building by 1924. The congregation grew steadily through the 30s and 40s. In 1949, it affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and changed its name to Beth Israel in 1950.
In the late 1960’s, CBI leadership purchased property at 229 Murdock Avenue. The site was originally the community Victory garden established during World War II. Led by the congregation’s President, Benson Slosman, CBI completed construction of its current building in 1969. Membership grew steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s, from 70 families in 1980, to 100 in 1990, to almost 200 in 1999. In 2014 the synagogue discontinued its affiliation with the United Synagogue (Conservative) movement to become more self-governing, to become inclusive of non-Jewish spouses/partners, and to be totally accepting of same sex couples.
Today, the CBI congregation consists of approximately 150 households. Our independent, heimish community is actively inspired by tradition and social justice. We are a participative, welcoming congregation that encourages all genders and generations to read from the Torah, lead Shacharit and Musaf services, share a d’var, or pray quietly.