Congregation Beth Israel

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“THE HEBREW SYNAGOGUE”, ca. 1906. Temple Beth Israel stands at the northeast corner of 3rd St. NE and E. Jefferson St. It was originally built in 1882 on the site of the current public library, formerly the Federal Building, on the northeast corner of E. Market and 2nd St. NE. The synagogue was dismantled to make way for the federal building in 1905-06, and reconstructed on its present site. The modern aspect is very much like this 1906 photograph, except for the additional built to the east in 1986. (Source: Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society)

Congregation Beth Israel is a synagogue in Charlottesville offering both Reform and Conservative worship services. The Hebrew Cemetery of Charlottesville, Virginia is maintained as a service to the local Jewish community by Congregation Beth Israel.


There has been a Jewish presence in the Charlottesville area since Colonial times, and the city has been home to Jewish families since the late 18th century. The first Jewish people to settle in the region were Michael and Sarah Israel, who settled in North Garden, just south of Charlottesville, in 1757. Their land is now referred to as Israel Gap. Later in the century, David Isaacs moved to Charlottesville from Richmond after helping establish the first synagogue there, opened a store and became known as a prominent member of society, as he and Thomas Jefferson were in regular correspondence, and Isaacs sent Jefferson material about Judaism. Isaacs lived in a common-law marriage with Nancy West for forty years, raising seven children with her despite their interracial relationship being illegal.

The Jewish community remained relatively small over the next few decades, but very much intact. In 1870, Isaac Leterman and Bernard Oberdorfer purchased land to be the Hebrew Cemetery, which was run by the Hebrew Benevolent Society.[1]

In 1882 the cornerstone was laid for the original Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Market and Second Street at the current site of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. Local architect, George Wallace Spooner designed the Congregation Beth Israel building in Gothic Revival, at the time a common style of religious architecture. Spooner designed some area churches and other buildings in a similar style. The fleur-de-lis on the synagogue’s rooflines are sometimes mistaken for crosses. It was the first synagogue in Charlottesville. Construction was finished in and dedication occurred in 1883. At this time and until 1940, services were led by lay community members.

In 1902, the Federal Government purchased that site for the Charlottesville post office. The building materials from the old synagogue were moved to the present site on Jefferson Street. By 1904, the rebuilt synagogue was dedicated in its new location.

Due to the influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, CBI made the decision to join the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a Reform organization, in 1927 following a compromise between the newer members of the community and the German-descended older members.[1]

In January of 1948, a fire during Friday night services led to interior and exterior damage to the building, as well as harmed the religious belongings and artifacts inside. Luckily, the Torah scrolls inside were rescued by Harry O'Mansky and Isaac Walters. The damage was reconstructed and the synagogue was rededicated a year later in 1949.

The temple was defaced with a two-foot high swastika in January 1960. [2] In the same week vandals also placed a sign at the University of Virginia which read in German "Jews Go Home". [3]

In 1982, the O'Mansky family funded the construction of a religious school connected to the synagogue, which was enlargened in 1995.

Congregation Beth Israel is the oldest continuously utilized synagogue in Virginia and among the twenty oldest continuously utilized synagogues in the United States.[4]


CBI is far more than an historic building. Numbering over 400 households, CBI is composed of a diverse membership reflecting the variety of the community. It provides a locus for a thriving local Jewish community, and serves as a house of worship and prayer, study and learning. The Religious school offers Sunday and Wednesday Hebrew and religious education classes to over 200 children and adults. The preschool and Camp CBI adds another dimension to the growing need for the care and education of young children. An active adult education program provides many avenues for learning, socializing and volunteerism. [1]

The Congregtation is also home to CBI Preschool, which was founded in 1998 to "provide a warm, nurturing, and creative Jewish environment for young children."

Clergy and Staff[5][6]

Senior Rabbi - Tom Gutherz

Rabbi Educator and Assistant Rabbi - Jess Kerman

Rabbi Emeritus - Daniel Alexander

Executive Director - Anita Boles

Office Manager - Raya Rzeszut

Financial Manager - Nancy Kliewer

Communications and Connections Manager - Lukas Holldorf

Director of Early Childhood Development - Jill Abbey-Clark

Assistant Director of Early Childhood Development - Clara Crider

Religious School Assistant - Shelby Apple

Music Specialist - Sharon McCord

Youth Advisors - Alina Khurgel and Joe Arton


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Web. Beth Israel Congregation Beth Israel History, 2012, retrieved March 19,2012.
  2. Print: Vandals Paint Swastika on Temple Beth Israel, staff reports, Daily Progress, Lindsay family January 11, 1960, Page 13.
  3. Print: Anti-Semitic Sign Painted at University, Staff reports, Daily Progress, Lindsay family January 12, 1960, Page 11.
  4. Web. To Seek the Peace of the City
  5. Web. Staff, Congregation Beth Israel, retrieved 17 May 2022.
  6. Web. Clergy, Congregation Beth Israel, retrieved 17 May 2022.

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