Congregation Brith Shalom (CBS) is an Egalitarian Conservative Jewish synagogue that strives to be:
An intimate community that welcomes everyone as family, encouraging personal relationships with our spiritual leaders and each other;
A spiritual community that is created through personal growth and active participation;
A compassionate community that cares for every member, for klal yisrael, and for all people in need;
A learning community that seeks deeper knowledge of Torah and commitment to Jewish values;
A sacred community that nurtures every individual’s Jewish journey.
For an individual, fifty five years is a significant portion of a lifetime, but in the span of Jewish history it is but a moment—a moment every Jew must make significant. The founders of Brith Shalom fulfilled that obligation and have left us a heritage of which we can be truly proud.
The Beginning and Early Milestones
The idea for Brith Shalom took shape at a meeting of the Hebrew Education Committee of the Jewish Community Council, on September 15, 1954, to explore the needs of Jewish families in Southwest Houston who were interested in forming a congregation for worship and for Hebrew school. The synagogue first met in 1955 in a rented house at 2203 Bellefontaine. That year the constitution was ratified, and the new conservative synagogue became Congregation Brith Shalom. The Sisterhood was formed that spring, and the first High Holy Day services were held in the Knights of Columbus Hall with the first rabbi, Samuel Scolnic.
In March 1956, the first service was conducted at 4301 Bellaire Boulevard in a prefabricated structure built by the members. The rabbi was Harry Sky.
The Men’s Club was formed in 1958. Rabbi Moshe Cahana, of blessed memory, became the spiritual leader in 1958. In the fall of 1959, the congregation purchased the First Baptist Church at 4610 Bellaire Boulevard, our present location. The building was dedicated in April 1961.
Over the span of its fifty year history, congregants have been served by other spiritual leaders: Rabbi Herbert Yoskowitz, Rabbi Shaul Osadchey, Rabbi Howard Siegel, Interim Rabbi Danny Horowitz, and now, Rabbi Ranon Teller.
Fifty years ago, in the beginning, we had as our primary goal the integration of each individual into synagogue life—into Jewish life. Through the efforts of our members, we have become a unique congregation.
We wanted to remain small in numbers and large in ideology. We wanted every member to know every other member, and we wanted every member to know the rabbi and for the rabbi to know every member.
The synagogue became an extension of family, with members producing, writing, and starring in “The Follies” (memorable and hilarious musical reviews), having Shabbat dinners and organizing weekend Shabbatons. Children were encouraged to participate in every facet of synagogue life. We built our sanctuary with the labor of our hands, creating art through our glorious ark cover, bimah cover, beautiful windows, and chuppah.
Brith Shalom has had an immeasurable impact on the larger Jewish community through our innovative practices. Brith Shalom was the first congregation in the Houston area to offer aliyahs to women, and classes were offered to prepare the honoree for the honor. We maintained the traditional practice of performing the Brit Milah ceremony on the eighth day by either a mohel or an observant Jewish doctor.
We established a Religious School, not a Sunday School, one in which religion, Hebrew, contemporary problems, customs, and history were integrated into the curriculum. As an extension of classroom learning, students participated in a project to clean up areas in the inner city—one of the first programs of its kind. At the beginning, the cost of religious school was included in membership dues.
Our first woman president, during her tenure, organized the Council of Congregation Presidents, which set a precedent throughout the country.
In Houston, the Yom Hashoah Commemorative Service began as a community-wide observance at Brith Shalom in 1978, with theologian Dr. Emil Fackenheim as our guest. Through the efforts of Brith Shalom, an annual commemoration of Yom Hashoah was established in the Houston community.
Our participation in social action has been unsurpassed. Our spiritual leaders and our lay leadership were in the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, both locally and nationally. When Rabbi Moshe Cahana walked into the sanctuary upon his return from marching in Alabama, the congregation gave him a standing ovation. Our Social Action program came to the attention of the chair of the Rabbinical Assembly's Social Action Committee on Racial Justice, who wrote to us commending our involvement and our work.
In 1964 when our county hospital, Ben Taub, was in crisis, author Jan de Hartog spoke on the issue from our pulpit, while the rabbi read the names of the “jewels” of the synagogue who had taken Red Cross training and were volunteering as nurses' aides.
In 1983, a group of Brith Shalom members, with the leadership of our rabbi, opened the doors in Houston for future group trips to Russia and to personal contacts with Refuseniks.
Over the years Brith Shalom has treated the Houston community to entertainers such as opera singer Robert Merrill, folk singer Theodore Bikel, vocalist Liza Minelli, and actress Olympia Dukakis; to lecturers such as Rabbi Harold Kushner, psychologist Haim Ginott, and Congresswoman Barbara Jordan; and to scholars-in-residence such as Dr. Theodore Gester, Professor Nahum Sarna, and Dr. Ismar Schorsch.
The larger Jewish community has also benefited from the service of Brith Shalom members. They have served the United Synagogue as regional leaders, the National Women’s League of Conservative Sisterhoods and the National Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs as regional and national leaders, as well as Hadassah, B’nai Brith, Jewish Women’s International, Brandeis, and O.R.T.
Brith Shalom members have chaired the women’s division of the United Jewish Campaign, served as presidents of Jewish Family Services, Seven Acres, the Federation, the Jewish Community Center and the AJC, as well as chairing the JCC Book Fair.
A Glorious Past, A Bright Future
Our past is glorious. The last five decades have been filled with memorable events. It is in this synagogue that we have shared life experiences: births, bar/bat mitzvahs, marriages, anniversaries, and the loss of loved ones. It is in this synagogue that we have found friendships, shared goals, holidays, and prayers. It is here we have identified ourselves as Jews and affirmed our faith in G-d.
It is here at Brith Shalom, our Covenant of Peace, that we carry the world’s oldest heritage and its newest dreams into the next fifty years.