Congregation B’nai Israel History


after receiving their state charter, the Lovers of Peace congregation started a Sunday School. A decade later, Harris Fellman and Bernard Goldonofsky organized a religious school with weekday, after-school classes for which a special committee and later a separate group undertook fund-raising activities and support.

When Rabbi Hirsh came to B’nai Israel, an English-speaking professional superintendent was hired to oversee the school. Special mention must be made of a very dedicated teacher who spent many years in Woonsocket, Charles Miller.
He was an educator in the fullest sense of the word who devised his own method of teaching Hebrew, a method well ahead of its time. This was decades before there was a Bureau of Jewish Education and teachers’ conferences with an exchange of ideas. He developed his Ivrit Be-ivrit (Hebrew in Hebrew) curriculum, a Hebrew immersion. He served the congregation almost continuously from 1924 to 1948. Through his high standards and the longevity of his tenure he made the Woonsocket school a model for other larger, more populous schools to aspire to, and charted a course of innovation and quality for those who succeeded him.
In 1962, during the tenure of Samuel Medoff as president, the present beautiful edifice at 224 Prospect Street was dedicated. It was Israel Medoff’s idea that the building honor the Jewish service men and women of Woonsocket who fought in World War II.

B’nai Israel is the third oldest, continuing, independent congregation in Rhode Island, third after Sons of Israel and David (Temple Beth-El) and Jeshuat Israel (Touro Synagogue). Many of the congregations organized before or at the turn of the twentieth century now exist as an appendage to the name of a newer group, as a memory of what once was. Yet this congregation remains vigorous and looks forward to its next one hundred years.

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Congregation B’nai Israel held a mortgage-burning ceremony in 1918, and, when in the next year they elected Arthur Darman for the first of an unprecedented nineteen terms, they faced the decades to come with optimism and confidence.

Although the membership of B’nai Israel, indeed the Jewish population of Woonsocket, did not grow much beyond 200 families, still over the decades they have sponsored a rich and ambitious calendar of cultural and social events: musical revues, plays and theatrical entertainments produced by Arthur Darman, the dynamic president and benefactor of the congregation; holiday celebrations, concerts of sacred and secular music, lecture series, youth activities, seminars, speeches by visiting dignitaries – Jewish and otherwise.

It amazes one to realize the energy and dedication of this congregational family, and it is well known how closely knit and devoted to each other its members have always been. As a teacher and as one engaged on several levels in Jewish education, I was struck by the concern of Congregation B’nai Israel for Jewish education and for the quality of that education for their children. Just three years


Our former Hebrew School and Community Center on Hamlet Avenue

Color photographs by Robert Golden