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BHA Centennial

100 years ago today, on May 27, 1921, a group of American Jews in a small city on the Hudson River officially incorporated as the Beacon Hebrew Alliance.

 

The world was recovering from a deadly pandemic and a horrific “war to end all wars.” These people were by and large immigrants, who had fled persecution and violence in Europe. Here in the United States, they were looking to start new lives, raise their families in a healthy and prosperous environment, and practice their faith safely and in harmony with their neighbors. In the Yiddish newspapers in NYC, they read about a city 60 miles north on the Hudson, where there was a Jewish mayor (Samuel Beskin), plenty of jobs and business opportunities, and best of all, fresh air and space to raise a healthy family. Dozens of Jewish families left the crowded city to take a chance on Beacon.

An old black and white photo with a young couple standing on the left behind a table piled with white fabric for the laundry and a group of seven people, some young and some old who are the employees standing in the back of the room. They are all faintly smiling.
BHA Founders Sarah and Jacob Ritter (standing on left) and their employees in their laundry on S. Chesnut Street, July 1925, photo courtesy of Frank Ritter

 

When they got here, they set up shops up and down Main Street. They had tailor shops, dry goods stores, pharmacies, laundries, a movie theater, restaurants, delis, toy shops, and even a Kosher butchery at one point. They were also doctors and dentists and health providers of all kinds. The only problem was there was no synagogue or Jewish cemetery. To practice their faith and receive the Torah, they had to cross the river on the ferry to go to Newburgh, or travel north 20 miles to Poughkeepsie. This became impractical, so they started to gather at each other’s houses and businesses to pray together. Eventually, they decided to form their own congregation and the Beacon Hebrew Alliance was formed.

In 1921, the founders of the Beacon Hebrew Alliance didn’t have a building or a Torah, but they had each other and a guiding vision for what the Beacon Hebrew Alliance could become. This is their story, and it is our story. It is remarkable how the imprints of our founders can still be seen in our community today.

 An old yellowing page of hand-typed meeting minutes.
Minutes from the first board meetings of BHA’s officers, dating from November 1921-July 1923, courtesy of Ann Gross

 

Now 100 years later, we are going through another deadly pandemic which has upended all of our lives. I think it is fitting that we take a look at our origins, and appreciate the order in which BHA was built: community first, then Torah, giving aid to others, and after that building a synagogue. May we always be blessed by the memories of our founders and find strength and inspiration in them.

A group of children  8 to 9 years old are singing in front of lit up windows and there is  a plaque behind them with brass plates shaped like leaves rising up in wavy branches.
Hebrew school children at BHA singing in front of the Tree of Life memorial, dedicated to BHA founding member Mrs. Sarah Ritter, December 1997, photo courtesy of Cantor Ellen Pearson Gersh

 

BHA’s Centennial celebrations will continue until the end of May, 2022. The centerpieces will be a virtual and physical exhibition about Jewish history in Beacon made in partnership with the Beacon Historical Society, and a self-guided walking tour of Beacon’s historical Jewish Main Street. In addition to these events, we will have lectures, educational programs, special services, and more. Each month we are posting an article on BHA’s Centennial Blog about a different aspect of Jewish history in Beacon. Please look for it here or catch it in the last newsletter of the month! Leading up to these events, we are conducting oral history interviews; collecting photos, artifacts and ephemera from BHA’s history; and creating a permanent archive for BHA.

Do you have photos or other memorabilia that relate to BHA’s story? If so, please fill out this quick google form to let us know what you have. We will reach out to you to arrange to scan your photos or collect your artifacts. Questions can be addressed to Centennial committee member Diane Lapis: dlapis@beaconhistorical.org

Please share this page with anyone you know who has a connection to BHA. We want our past members to enjoy and participate in this celebration too!

 

Thank you for reading and sharing, and happy birthday BHA!

 

BHA Centennial Committee:

Anna Brady Marcus, Chair, BHA member, trustee of Beacon Historical Society, personal historian and founder of Anchor Your Legacy

Diane Lapis, president of the Beacon Historical Society, BHA member

Ellen Pearson Gersh, Cantor of Beacon Hebrew Alliance

Rusty Stahl, Vice President of the Board of Beacon Hebrew Alliance

Ann Gross, BHA member

Ian Green, former BHA member

Ellen Kirschner, BHA member

Nanci Sobier-Maier, Beacon Historical Society member

Helen Crohn, BHA member and Beacon Historical Society member

Oral History Sub-committee:

Anna Brady Marcus

Cantor Ellen Pearson Gersh

Ann Gross

Laura Liebeck

Laurel Becker

Ian Green

Jenn Abrams

Support and Thanks

Thanks to JM Superville-Sovak for designing the BHA Centennial logo, Frank Ritter Photography for sharing photos and artifacts from the Ritter Family archives, and Ann Gross for collecting and saving BHA’s archives.

Special Thanks to Stewart and Sandy Cahn for their lead sponsorship of BHA’s Centennial through a gift from the Sadie Cahn Fund for the Beacon Hebrew Alliance.

Tue, November 30 2021 26 Kislev 5782