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Our Mission, Pillars & History

Beth Israel is a Reconstructionist congregation located in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. 

Our Mission

Beth Israel is a vibrant, welcoming community committed to a Judaism that nurtures our members, engages in lifelong learning, and actively works to repair the world (tikkun olam).

As part of the Reconstructing Judaism movement, we embrace our ancestors’ search for meaning, purpose, and value. We continue in their footsteps as we celebrate Jewish expressions of faith in many forms: prayer and action, debate and music, teaching and learning. Our diverse views of God include a conception of the Divine as a powerful force within and around us, helping us become our fullest selves and advancing justice in the world.

At Beth Israel, we honor the spark of holiness in all and welcome people of all backgrounds. We are a community of multi-faith families and diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, races, ethnicities, abilities, and political affiliations. We look forward to having you as part of our community!

Our Value Statements (Pillars)

We value being:

  • a center for meaningful Jewish practice, lifelong Jewish learning, and exploration of Jewish culture
  • a thriving, inclusive, supportive, and welcoming community
  • a community that supports justly repairing the world (tikkun olam)
  • a healthy and well-functioning organization that is prepared for our future

Our History

Congregation Beth Israel was founded in 1925 as the first Jewish congregation in Media. The congregation consisted of fourteen men when it received its charter in 1929. Services were held in various locations until the Gayley Street building was purchased in 1938 for $5650. The site was a former Friends School. The congregation was initially led by Yeshiva-trained Orthodox rabbis. In 1948 mixed seating was instituted and in 1950 a permanent ark was installed. This is the same ark we use to this day. The 1950s brought the first full-time rabbi and the first newsletter.

In the 1960s there was a decline in membership for several reasons. Facilities were lacking and some were dissatisfied with the style of worship. At the most critical point, the congregation dwindled to 33 families and there was talk of merging with another synagogue.

In the early 1970s the building was modernized and the idea of a more contemporary form of Judaism took hold. The congregation affiliated with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) which sent student rabbis to lead services. In 1972 Beth Israel joined the the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot, which is now Reconstructing Judaism, and the first rabbi from RRC became formally affiliated with Beth Israel. The community entered a long period of stability and growth.

During the 1980's, the congregation continued to offer stimulating Shabbat services, Adult Education progressed as did the Religious School and many new programs such as the Congregational Retreat and Flea Market were introduced. The congregation became involved in a variety of new issues at this time including Soviet Jewry and increased involvement in the ways of leading meaningful and educated Jewish lives. In 1984, the Congregation received and dedicated a Holocaust Torah from the Westminster Trust. The Dedication service can be read here.

In the summer of 1988, however, a congregational split resulted in the loss of about one third of the membership. After a new rabbi was hired in 1989, the congregation began to regain its vitality.

Space had always been an issue. The congregation had outgrown the religious school facilities, and the second-floor sanctuary was unable to accommodate all who wished to pray. It was necessary to hold High Holy Day services in other facilities including the Jeffords Mansion in Ridley Creek State Park. The Social Hall did more than triple duty and served as the library, secretary's office, and classroom. While the kitchen and restroom facilities were inadequate and the sanctuary too small for many occasions of communal worship, a tipping point was reached in the mid-1990s when our classrooms could not accommodate all the children of new members.

In 1996, the Board began the process of evaluating the congregation's needs for space. When all evidence pointed to the inadequacy of another renovation of the Gayley Street building, a Building Search Committee was formed and community members scouted the area for possible properties. Fortuitous connections and teamwork led us to find Beth Israel's new building on South New Middletown Road in 1997. Loans provided by a consortium of members enabled the congregation to present a more attractive bid and secure the building's purchase. In September of that year, members of Beth Israel paraded with Rabbi Linda Potemken through the streets of Media Borough and Middletown Township carrying the Torahs to their new home. Congregation Beth Israel is the second oldest congregation in Delaware County. It is also the oldest Reconstructionist congregation in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. We have a proud legacy to pass on to future generations.

(Adapted from the Case Statement for the Beth Israel Capital Campaign-L'dor V'dor and from Through The Years, Congregation of Beth Israel of Media, Pennsylvania, by Julian Preisler.)

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784