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Our History

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.

Now 100 years later, we have been 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 comensed in 2021 and through 2022. The centerpieces were 

  • An exhibition about Jewish history in Beacon and a virtual  self-guided walking tour of Beacon’s historical Jewish Main Street made in partnership with the Beacon Historical Society
  • A Centennial Gala fundraiser on April 7th, and a BHA Birthday Bash Picnic at Long Dock Park on September 11, 2022.
  • Each month of the centennial year we posted an article on BHA’s Centennial Blog about a different aspect of Jewish history in Beacon.
  • By way of research, we conducted dozens of oral history interviews; collected photos, artifacts and ephemera from the community; and delved into the archives of BHA and the Historical Society. At the conclusion of the centennial year, we will have created a permanent archive for BHA to be housed and stored at Beacon Historical Society.
A map of downtown Beacon with numbered dots in blue indicating stops on the walking tour. By touching these spots, one can learn more about the Jewish businesses in that area.
The walking tour map from the Jewish Beacon History Walk app, created in April 2022. Designed by Banu Akman


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, former 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


BHA Board Centennial Celebration Subcommittee:

Karen Mayer, Chair

Celia Baczkowski

Jenny Kaplan

Aaron Pincus

Anna Brady Marcus

Helen Crohn


Centennial Exhibition and Walking Tour credits:

Exhibition Director: Diane Lapis

Exhibition curators: Sara Pasti and Donna Mikkelsen

Walking Tour Writer and Director: Anna Brady Marcus

Walking Tour App Designer: Banu Akman 

Walking Tour Photography: Frank Ritter


Support and Thanks

Thanks to Jean-Marc Superville-Sovak for designing the BHA Centennial logo, Frank Ritter for providing photography services and sharing photos and artifacts from the Ritter Family archives, Ann Gross for collecting and saving BHA’s archives, Laura Liebeck-Smith for public relations support and oral history interviews, and Laurel Becker for oral history transcriptions. Additional thanks to the volunteers and interns of the Beacon Historical Society for their research into BHA’s history and supplying us with historical photos for this event; and to the many volunteers who interviewed or participated in interviews for BHA’s oral history archives and supplied photos and artifacts for the Centennial programs.

The BHA Centennial Programs are made possible, in part, by the Irving and Gloria Schlossberg Family Fund and the Sadie Jane Effron Cahn Beacon Hebrew Alliance Endowment of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley.

Sun, May 26 2024 18 Iyyar 5784