In 1970, a group of eight Armonk families created a local religious school so that their children could learn about these and other aspects of our rich Jewish heritage. These local pioneers were primarily concerned with quality religious education. The school met in homes around Armonk during the afternoon hours. Religious school was held mid-week which allowed us to have the most qualified teachers from other congregations (whose schools met on weekends).
The name chosen by the pioneering families was the Association of Armonk Jewish Families. We sought to create an atmosphere in which positive Jewish learning would lead to a strong Jewish identity.
As the Association grew and the school flourished, so too did the need for the inclusion of other aspects of our Jewish identity, particularly holiday (especially High Holidays), Shabbat and Bar/Bat Mitzvah services.
An Ark and Bimah (podium) were designed and built by one of the original families.
A Torah was acquired. We now have several, including a Torah that survived the Holocaust, which is an emotionally powerful connection for our community to those lost during those horrible times.
From the beginning, our congregation was a community effort. Everyone pitched in–parents and children alike.
We helped set up the school, which had grown too large to meet in our homes and was now meeting in the basement of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
We moved the Ark, Bimah, Torah and prayer books to wherever services were scheduled. The Association scheduled Shabbat and holiday services in the public library, American Legion Hall, Ramada Inn, in the homes of members and in the Lutheran Church.
The Association’s second major turning point was its decision to hire a full time Rabbi in 1979. Douglas E. Krantz, who had served as Assistant Rabbi at Temple Israel in New York City, was chosen.
Rabbi Krantz came to Armonk with a mandate to lead the transformation of the Association into a full service congregation.
From the beginning, Rabbi Krantz was personally committed to creating a congregation that would be a model well into the twenty-first century.
A critical emphasis in our synagogue structure was the creation of a strong system of committees to run the many aspects of synagogue life, in active coordination with a diverse Board of Trustees. Our programs are generated by active committees; we don’t have one body overseeing everything. A large number of families have become involved in the decision making process through active committee participation, which has led to a greater sense of unity and belonging among our congregants.
Our Board of Trustees consists of elected members who also serve as liaisons to the committees.
Later in that eventful founding year, the Board of Trustees recommended and the members unanimously approved changing the name of the Association to Congregation B’nai Yisrael. This name was chosen because we are descendants of “the Children of Israel” who have made their way across oceans of time and place to Armonk, New York.
By 1980, we actively began to pursue the acquisition of a permanent home to meet the future needs of our congregation. When we learned the Lutheran Church was for sale, a fundraising campaign was organized. A committee composed of the entire congregation was formed to support this effort. Now that’s what we call a committee!
Within three months over $600,000 was pledged and the church was purchased.
In June 1981, we moved into our new home. The nomadic Jews of Armonk literally danced in the empty building. That next Friday night everyone brought their own chairs and we conducted our first service.
Over the summer, the building was painted, and a temporary Bimah was built. Then, with hundreds in attendance, we formally dedicated the sanctuary in September: We planted a cedar tree, set a time capsule to be opened in 1991, affixed a mezuzah to the doors and carried the Torah to the Ark.
Congregation B’nai Yisrael was dedicated as a gift, gladly given “to the generation of Jews who will follow us, passing on their heritage learned here, of the enduring principles of the values of Judaism.”
We had come home.
During the next few years, we worked on developing a model congregation and a philosophy under which we would continue to grow:
Congregation B’nai Yisrael is dedicated to the practice of Reform Judaism, to the worship of the God of Israel, to living out the imperatives of Judaism, to work for a better world–a world of justice and peace–and to the enlightened study of Judaism.
We are committed to community, to sharing responsibility for the life and growth of the congregation by working together to determine the program and the direction of our congregation.
We seek to cultivate a love for and understanding of Judaism, its traditions and culture. We shall provide both an education and a spiritual experience for every member of the family, so that we deepen Jewish identity in the community and increase the impact of Judaism on our lives.
In order to accomplish these purposes, we shall:
Provide the facilities with which to instruct our children and ourselves in the principles of Judaism.
Maintain a religious home, which reflects simplicity and sincerity, and thereby reflects the spirituality of our religion.
Establish within our community an intimacy and modesty which unite all who enter regardless of their station in life.