Celebrating our history

March 1, 2024
By Keith Satter

Dear Members,

The days and weeks seem to be moving by so quickly so this column starts with a very special Save the Date reminder. Please circle Sunday, May 19th so you can attend a milestone Beth El gala. On that night, we will be celebrating the 90th anniversary of Congregation Beth El as well as honoring our very special rabbi, Ita Paskind.

The year was 1934. Norwalk was a very different place back then. We were experiencing the Great Depression. Times were tough for so many.  Norwalk was the center of Jewry in the four town area. Our founders broke off from the Orthodox shul on Concord Street in South Norwalk to form Beth El. Our early years were spent on West Avenue at what was then the Norwalk Jewish Center. It wasn’t until 1948 that we moved to our East Avenue location.

Over time, and with thanks to the Baby Boomer cohort, we grew to some 500 families. Religious school was in session four days a week (although students only attended two of those weekdays) and on Saturdays and Sundays (students attended one or the other). We had a cantor who was joined by an organist and a choir for the High Holidays and just the organist on Friday night.

In 1985, Beth El underwent a complete renovation including a raising of the bima, taking some parking spaces and making them into our current social hall and moving the school wing to where the old auditorium used to be.

When the Jewish Center in Shorehaven went out of business, we took over their nursery school and it has run at breakeven or a profit ever since then.

We have had eight rabbis since 1934. In 2015, when Rabbi Ron Fish decided to move to Massachusetts, we conducted an extensive rabbi search. The result was Rabbi Ita Paskind, who joined us from Virginia where she was an assistant rabbi. Rabbi Paskind brought with her an enthusiastic approach to her teaching and davening. That she has a beautiful voice was a bonus.

Rabbi Paskind is an enthusiastic and resourceful leader. At no time was that more present – and needed — than during the COVID epidemic in 2021. She embraced Zoom and held our congregation together by introducing innovative ways to pray, meet and stay entertained during this truly scary time.

We at Beth El are blessed to have Rabbi Paskind leading us into the future. She, along with her two daughters, Noa and Ayala, are important parts of Beth El and I hope you will plan to join us in May as we celebrate both our history and our future.