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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 for the rest of the year. The bulk of the programs will take place this fall, with a virtual and physical exhibition about Jewish history in Beacon made in partnership with the Beacon Historical Society, a self-guided tour of Beacon’s historical Jewish Main Street; lectures, educational programs, special services, and more. 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. Stay tuned for more articles about BHA’s history and audio stories from our oral history project!

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

And finally, if you would like to get involved in BHA’s Centennial Committee or help us out in any way, please contact us at bhacentennial2021@gmail.com! We are especially looking for individuals who have experience in writing, graphic design, photo editing, audio editing, social media marketing, or project management. We could also use help logging interviews or conducting interviews.

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

 

B’shalom,

The BHA Centennial Committee:

Anna Marcus, Chair

Diane Lapis

Ellen Pearson Gersh

Rusty Stahl

 

PS: Special thanks to JM Superville-Sovak who designed our new Centennial logo; Ann Gross for giving us access to BHA’s archives that she so lovingly saved; and Frank Ritter for contributing historical photos and articles from the Ritter family.

Thu, August 5 2021 27 Av 5781